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OBERMANN 



VOLUME I 



OBERM ANN 

SELECTIONS FROM 

LETTERS TO A FRIEND 

BY 

Etienne Pivert de Senancour 

chosen and translated with an Introductory 
Essay and Notes by Jessie Peabody 
Frothingham, Translator of the 
Journal of Maurice de Guerin 

VOLUME ONE 




The Riverside Press, Cambridge 

I 9 o I 



Copyright, 1 901 
By Jessie Peabody Frotbingham 

All rights reserved 









ro Mr MOTHER 

Whose unfailing encouragement and 

criticism have been my help 

and inspiration 

I DEDICATE THESE VoLUMES 






F R O M 

Stanzas in Memory of 

THE Author of 

Obermann 



A FEVER in these pages burns 
Beneath the calm they feign ; 
A wounded human spirit turns 
Here, on its bed of pain. 

Yes, though the virgin mountain-air 
Fresh through these pages blows ; 
Though to these leaves the glaciers 

spare 
The soul of their mute snows ; 

Though here a mountain -murmur 

swells 
Of many a dark-boughed pine ; 



vi STANZAS 

Though, as you read, you hear the bells 
Of the high-pasturing kine — 

Yet, through the hum of torrent lone. 
And brooding mountain-bee. 
There sobs I know not what ground- 
tone 
Of human agony. 

Matthew Arnold. 



P 



PRE FA C E 



IN offering to the public for the first 
time a translation ^Obermann/ an 
explanation is scarcely needed; for although 
Senancour has for a hundred years remained 
comparatively unknown^ his writings must 
appeal to every lover of nature as much as, 
or perhaps in some ways even more than, the 
works of Amiel and Maurice de Guerin, 
whose precursor he was, and both of whom 
have already been presented to British and 
American readers. But while the charm 
^Obermann lies chiefly in its subtle and 
strong delineation of material nature, it is 
not this alone that challenges attention. As 
a monody on human experience it may well 
attract many who are interested in the prob- 
lem of life. 

In making selections from Obermann 



viii PREFACE 

// has been my aim to lay stress upon these 
two sides y as well as to emphasize Senan- 
cours aversion to the established order of 
things^ an aversion from which sprang a 
large part of his inward discontent. This 
has obliged me to include many passages 
of an introspective character^ thus over- 
accentuating^ perhaps^ the authors ten- 
dency to self -analysis ; but these passages 
usually form the prelude to meditations on 
life and nature too valuable to be omitted. 
Although in France the admirers of Senan- 
cour dwell at length upon the importance 
of his philosophy^ for us his chief claim to 
recognition must rest on his deep under- 
standing of the human hearty his constant 
groping after truth, his realization of what 
there is of sad and inscrutable in life, and 
his love of the beautiful and the sublime in 
nature, These qualities of the poet, which 
give him whatever right he may have to 
greatness y have received the larger share of 
attention. As a logician he is not equally 
strong; I have therefore left untranslated 



PREFACE ix 

many long arguments and deductions which 
in style fall below his highest levely and de- 
tract from rather than add to the beauty 
and harmony of the rest. 

To translate Obermann has been an 
interesting, though not an easy work. M, 
yules Levalloisy the most ardent modem 
exponent of the poet-philosopher , and for 
years a close student of his works y himself 
acknowledges that it is difficult to under- 
stand Senancour ; for his meaning is often 
subtly hidden, suggested rather than ex- 
pressed. His extreme literary reserve, which 
made him shun the favor of the multitude, 
led him, perhaps, to veil his thought, and 
leave it half-untold, as it were, but clothed 
in a wealth of imagery. 

It has also been difficult at times to 
reconcile an attempt to preserve to a certain 
degree the original style and rhythm, with 
a desire to use English literary form. In 
some places I have allowed myself consid- 
erable freedom where the composition of the 
sentences seemed intricate and involved, at 



X PREFACE 

times I have translated the meaning rather 
than the words ^ and in other places I have 
adhered to an almost literal rendering. My 
hope is that the remarkable beauty and 
power of Senancours expression may not 
have been entirely lost in the translation, 

y. p. F. 



INTRODUCriON 



IN November, 1849, Matthew Ar- 
nold, then a young man of twenty- 
seven, almost at the beginning of his 
literary career, wrote some stanzas in 
memory of the author of Obermann^ 
an obscure French poet, whose name 
and writings had, until then, been 
scarcely known outside of France, and 
who had died almost unnoticed three 
years before. These were followed, 
many years after, by other stanzas, 
Obermann Once More. It is through 
these two poems by Matthew Arnold 
that the author of Obermann^ Etienne 
Pivert de Senancour, has been chiefly 
known to the reading public of Eng- 
land and America. But while his name 
has in this way become familiar to 



xii INTRODUCTION 

many, his writings have never attained 
celebrity ; and, even in his ovv^n coun- 
try, he is not famous. The prose poem, 
Obermann, has been read by a few who 
have been attracted by its rare poetic 
quality and interpretative power, but it 
has not received general recognition, 
nor been awarded by the public its just 
rank as a work of marked talent. 

There are good reasons why the au- 
thor of Obermann should have remained 
without fame beyond a narrow circle 
of admirers, as we shall see by a study 
of his character. His own description 
of this isolation, which oppressed him, 
even though he sought it, is filled with 
a sense of pain. On the 1 2th of Octo- 
ber, in Letter XXII, he writes from 
Fontainebleau : — 

" I am alone. ... I am here in the 
world, a wanderer, solitary in the midst 
of a people for whom I care nothing ; 
like a man, deaf for many years, whose 
eager eyes gaze upon the crowd of silent 



INTRODUCTION xiii 

beings who move and pass before him. 
He sees everything, but everything is 
withheld from him ; he suffers the si- 
lence of all things in the midst of the 
noise of the world ; ... he is apart 
from the entirety of beings; ... in 
vain do all things exist around him ; he 
lives alone, he is isolated in the midst 
of the living world.'* 

Although the author of Obermann 
separated himself by choice from the 
life of his times, and, while the tur- 
moil of events swept past him, stood 
apart as a solitary figure, deaf to their 
noise and seemingly unconscious of 
their object, yet he must take his place 
as a member — the most isolated, it is 
true — of the sentimental democratic 
movement which had its rise in the 
second half of the eighteenth century. 
By right of talent, through affinity of 
sentiment and feeling, he belonged to 
that romantic school of France which 
was the successor of classicism and in- 



xiv INTRODUCTION 

tellectual atheism, and numbered in its 
ranks a Rousseau, a Bernardin de St. 
Pierre, a Chateaubriand, a Madame de 
Stael, whose names sounded like clarion 
notes through the end of the eighteenth 
century and the first half of the nine- 
teenth. But even the gentler lights 
among the pantheists of French litera- 
ture, Vigny, Maurice de Guerin, La- 
martine, Musset, Amiel, received wider 
recognition than the solitary dreamer 
who has, nevertheless, written pages 
more beautiful, perhaps, in their sim- 
plicity, charm, grandeur even, than 
have many of his better known con- 
temporaries or successors. 

These pages, which formed the re- 
pository of the intimate personal reve- 
ries of a nature delicately responsive 
to every impression and emotion, and 
which contained a depth of feeling and 
experience not appreciated by the many, 
were, however, we are told by Sainte- 
Beuve, cherished by a small band of 



INTRODUCTION xv 

admirers, — Sautelet, Bastide, Ampere, 
Stapfer, Nodier, — young and ardent 
spirits, who looked up to their author 
with reverence as to a master, and by 
a group of men of letters which counted 
such names as Rabbe, Ballanche, Pierre 
Leroux, and Boisjolin the editor of the 
second edition of Obermann, More than 
this, Sainte-Beuve himself, George Sand, 
and in recent years Jules Levallois, at- 
tracted by his rare gifts and his singu- 
lar charm, have done for him in France 
what Matthew Arnold has done in Eng- 
land, and Alvar Tornudd in Finland : 
they have made him a name to the 
many and more than a name to the 
few who appreciate beauty of style and 
the poet's power to interpret nature. 

Several of the writers of the roman- 
tic school possessed to a remarkable 
degree this gift of rendering nature. 
Chateaubriand possessed it, though 
often in a studied form ; Maurice de 
Guerin had it in all its naturalness and 



xvi INTRODUCTION 

grace ; Senancour had it with a sim- 
plicity, grandeur, and eloquence which 
have seldom been surpassed. He has 
given us pictures of singular beauty, 
both as a landscapist and as a poet ; for 
he not only paints nature in her out- 
ward semblance, but he leads us into 
close companionship with what is hid- 
den and intimate in her life. This is 
why Obermann has outlived obscurity. 
Although Senancour made no use of 
metrical form, he held more of the 
poetic gift of understanding and appre- 
ciating nature, and of interpreting her 
with subtle sympathy, than did many 
poets who wrote in verse. And in this 
feeling for nature he was perhaps less 
akin to Lamartine, the chief singer of 
French romanticism, than to Words- 
worth and others among the English 
poets. 

It may appear singular that the only 
countries where the works of Senan- 
cour have been widely appreciated are 



INTRODUCTION xvii 

the lands of the far north, Finland, 
Sweden, and Norway. But his strong 
sympathy with all that was primitively 
sublime and titanic in nature and in 
man, which inspired him to write in 
Obermann, " It is to the lands of the 
north that belong the heroism born of 
enthusiasm, and the titanic dreams bred 
of sublime melancholy," must have 
formed a powerful attraction for a peo- 
ple whose early literature represented 
types of primeval man and nature. 

Obermanriy written during 1801 to 
1803, and first published in 1804, is a 
book of disconnected impressions and 
meditations, in the form of letters to a 
friend, containing the reveries of a re- 
cluse on life and nature. But although 
Obermann is an internal autobiography 
of Senancour, we must guard against 
taking too literally its external details, 
for the author purposely altered facts 
and dates in order to mislead the reader. 

Etienne Pivertde Senancour was born 



xviii INTRODUCTION 

in Paris in 1 770, the year of the birth 
of Wordsworth. His father, who be- 
longed to a noble and a comparatively 
rich family of Lorraine, and who held 
the ofBce of comptroller of the reve- 
nues under Louis XVI, was a man of 
inflexible will, and of small sympathy 
with youth or with what goes to make 
youth gay. Young Senancour's child- 
hood was not happy ; he had little 
companionship, and no pleasures. A 
profoundly melancholy temperament, 
given him by nature, developed by all 
the conditions of his home life, made 
him prematurely sombre and discon- 
tented ; ill health and his father*s stern- 
ness increased a self-repression, apathy, 
and awkwardness which were the re- 
sult partly of physical immaturity and 
partly of mental precocity. Romantic 
from childhood, thirsting for joy with 
an intensity rarely seen in one so young, 
receiving back from life only disillu- 
sions and unsatisfied longings, he soon 



INTRODUCTION xlx 

became acquainted with suffering, and 
could say with reason that he had never 
been young. Born without the power, 
but with the fierce desire for happiness, 
his "joy in everything" was withered 
before it bloomed. The few allusions 
in Obermann to those early years show 
how greatly they influenced his after 
life. But among these memories of his 
youth, one ray of content pierces now 
and then the general gloom, — his love 
for his mother, and her sympathy with 
him. Later, after death had separated 
him from her, he pictures, with un- 
wonted tenderness, the walks they took 
together in the woods of Fontainebleau, 
when he was a schoolboy spending his 
vacations with his parents in the coun- 
try. He was only fifteen at that time, 
but showed even then his love for all 
things beautiful in nature, his longing 
for solitude, his premature seriousness, 
his changeful moods, his ardent, sensi- 
tive, restless temperament which gave 



XX INTRODUCTION 

him no peace. At Paris, on the 27th 
of June, in Letter XI, this recollection 
comes to him as an inspiration : — 

" The first time I went to the forest 
I was not alone. ... I plunged into 
the densest part of the woods, and when 
I reached a clearing, shut in on all sides, 
where nothing could be seen but stretches 
of sand and of juniper-trees, there came 
to me a sense of peace, of liberty, of 
savage joy, the sway of nature first felt 
in careless youth. . . . Often I was in 
the forest before the rising of the sun. 
I climbed the hills still deep in shadow ; 
I was all wet from the dew-covered 
underbrush ; and when the sun shone 
out I still longed for that mystic light, 
precursor of the dawn. I loved the 
deep gullies, the dark valleys, the dense 
woods ; I loved the hills covered with 
heather ; I loved the fallen boulders 
and the rugged rocks, and, still better, I 
loved the moving sands, their barren 
wastes untrodden by the foot of man. 



INTRODUCTION xxi 

but furrowed here and there by the 
restless tracks of the roe or the fleeing 
hare. ... It was then that I noticed 
the birch, a lonely tree which even in 
those days filled me with sadness, and 
which, since that time, I have never 
seen without a sense of pleasure. I love 
the birch ; I love that smooth, white, 
curling bark ; that wild trunk ; those 
drooping branches ; the flutter of the 
leaves, and all that abandonment, simpli- 
city of nature, attitude of the desert." 

Here, then, at Fontainebleau, came 
the first awakening of his feeling for 
nature, — a feeling which had perhaps 
already been unconsciously stirred at 
Ermenonville, a small village in the 
Valois, where Rousseau had died a few 
years before, in 1778. Young Senan- 
cour, who had early shown his love of 
study, and, when only seven years old, 
had devoured with feverish ardor every 
book of travel that fell into his hands, 
had been sent to school at Ermenon- 



xxii INTRODUCTION 

ville, and lived with the cure of the 
parish. There, as an impressionable 
boy, he must have stood by the tomb 
of Rousseau ; must have wandered in 
the castle grounds where Rousseau had 
lived before his death ; have listened to 
the " rustling leaves of the birches ; " 
have seen "the quiet waters, the cas- 
cade among the rocks, . . . and the 
green that stretches beyond like a prai- 
rie, above which rise wooded slopes," 
as Gerard de Nerval, in Sylvie, pictures 
it to us in the first quarter of the nine- 
teenth century. 

At fifteen Senancour entered the 
College de la Marche, at Paris, where 
he followed the four years' course dili- 
gently, not brilliantly, but successfully, 
and graduated with honor. In those 
four years, his mind, already open to 
philosophic doubt, was definitely led 
into channels which destroyed whatever 
religious belief may have been feebly 
lodged there by his mother's teaching. 



INTRODUCTION xxiii 
He left college an atheist. It had been 
the intention of the elder Senancour 
that his son should enter the priest- 
hood, and being a man of imperious 
will, unaccustomed to remonstrance or 
opposition, he immediately made ar- 
rangements for Etienne to take a two 
years* preparatory course at the semi- 
nary of Saint-Sulpice. 

By nature without depth of Chris- 
tian religious feeling, by temperament 
fiercely opposed to rules and institu- 
tions, by education steeped in the phi- 
losophic thought of the day, the young 
student of Malebranche and Helvetius 
rose in revolt against a step which 
"essentially shocked his nature/' In 
August, 1789, with the help of his 
mother, he left Paris, and buried him- 
self in the solitudes of the Swiss Alps : 
there, in the region of perpetual ice, 
the primitive man in him strove to 
wrest from primitive nature the key to 
life. 



xxlv INTRODUCTION 

At this period, when we see in him 
so much to " essentially shock" our 
natures, — his atheism, his antagonism 
to Christianity, his bitterness against 
institutions, — he has at least the merit 
of austere sincerity and of scrupulous 
morality. With a nature so sincere and 
so strongly opposed to a religious voca- 
tion, he could not bring himself to 
enter the priesthood solely for the sake 
of earning a living, or to play the hyp- 
ocrite in order to satisfy an exacting 
parent. 

" I could not sacrifice my manhood," 
he protests, " in order to become a 
man of affairs." 

And in another place, in the same 
letter, he says : — 

" It is not enough to look upon a 
profession as honest for the simple rea- 
son that one can earn an income of 
thirty or forty thousand francs without 
theft." 

Sincerity he regarded as one of the 



INTRODUCTION xxv 

natural, simple virtues. The grander 
virtues he had also known ; he w^rites : — 

" I have known the enthusiasm of 
the great virtues. . . . My stoical 
strength braved misfortunes as well as 
passions ; and I felt sure that I should 
be the happiest of men if I were the 
most virtuous.'* 

This stoicism was merely a phase ; 
it went hand in hand with an atheism 
and a fatalism which were also nothing 
more than phases ; they were not de- 
stined to endure long, but they pro- 
duced his first work. Reveries sur la 
Nature Primitive de V Homme ^ written 
during the early years of his exile in 
Switzerland, and published in 1799, 
when he had returned secretly to Paris. 
During those ten years France had 
passed through her great crisis ; but the 
distant rumblings of the Revolution 
which had shaken his country to her 
foundations, and had reechoed through- 
out Europe, seem to have left Senan- 



xxvi INTRODUCTION 

cour unmoved. Buried in his mountain 
solitudes, surrounded by the silence of 
the snows, absorbed in the contempla- 
tion of natural forces, he remained ap- 
parently unconscious of the movement 
of the gigantic social forces around 
him. He represents passivity in an age 
of intense moral and social activity, the 
sage among soldiers, the dreamer of 
ideas for which the rest of the world 
were fighting, the believer in a new 
system which was even then overturn- 
ing society, and which fifty years later 
was to produce men of his stamp. 

But the Revolution which he ig- 
nored did not pass him by unnoticed, as 
he might have wished. His noble an- 
cestry and his abrupt departure from 
Paris immediately before the outbreak 
of the Revolution were sufficient rea- 
sons to lay him open to suspicion, and 
for him to be classed as an " emigre ; " 
thus his voluntary retirement was turned 
into a forced exile. Obliged for politi- 



INTRODUCTION xxvii 

cal reasons to make Switzerland his 
home, we find him, not long after his 
arrival, living in the house of a patri- 
cian family in the canton of Fribourg. 
A daughter of the house, unhappy in 
her home, and in her engagement to a 
man for whom she had no attachment, 
became interested in Senancour ; they 
saw each other constantly, even began 
to write a romance together ; she con- 
fided her troubles to him, and at last 
broke her engagement. Young Senan- 
cour, sensitive, scrupulous, believing 
himself to be morally, though uninten- 
tionally, bound to the young girl, mar- 
ried her in 1790, at the age of twenty. 
The marriage was not a happy one ; 
but he remained a devoted husband un- 
til his wife's early death. He had been 
in love once, some years before, — a 
transient fancy, as he then thought, 
but one that had for a moment opened 
before him visions of happiness which 
might have been his, and that returned 



xxviii INTRODUCTION 

to him, in later years, with almost over- 
whelming force in the hour of his great 
moral crisis. 

In Letter XI, from Paris, hewrites: — 
" It was in March ; I was at Lu — . 
There were violets at the foot of the 
thickets, and lilacs in a little meadow, 
springlike and peaceful, open to the 
southern sun. The house stood high 
above. A terraced garden hid the win- 
dows from sight. Below the meadow, 
steep and rugged rocks formed wall 
upon wall ; at the foot, a wide torrent, 
and beyond, other ledges covered with 
fields, with hedges, and with firs ! 
Across all this stretched the ancient 
walls of the city ; an owl had made his 
home among the ruined towers. In the 
evening, the moon shone, distant horns 
gave answering calls ; and the voice that 
I shall never hear again ! *' 

These dreams had passed, and in 
their place had come misfortunes in a 
long and overwhelming train. The 



INTRODUCTION xxix 

loss of his fortune through the French 
Revolution, and of his wife's inheri- 
tance through the Swiss Revolution, a 
painful nervous trouble which deprived 
him throughout his life of the natural 
use of his arms, the long and mortal 
illness of his wife, the death of his 
father and of his much-loved mother, 
separation from his son and from his 
friends, — all these formed the setting 
of a grief, stifling and sombre, that 
found frequent expression in the book 
which was the Journal Intime of Se- 
nancour's inward experience. 

In a life so grave, so full of disillu- 
sions, Senancour turned for support to 
nature, — to a nature calm, broad, ma- 
jestic, that brought him moments of 
content, almost of happiness. His sen- 
sitive organization responded like an 
echo to every impression from the nat- 
ural world, yet his enjoyment of nature 
had in it as much of an intellectual as 
of an emotional quality. His style ^at- 



XXX INTRODUCTION 

tracts us, not so much from the sound 
of the words as from the musical flow 
of the phrase and the exquisitely har- 
monious turn of the sentence, the fall- 
ing cadence at the close, with here and 
there a sudden break in the rhythm. 
No one who reads Obermann can fail 
to find rare delight in the charm of its 
cadences, in the remarkable power of 
language which it shows, and in the 
magic faculty of the artist to see the 
elements that constitute a picture. 

On the 19th of July, in Letter IV, 
Senancour writes from Thiel of a night 
spent on the shores of Lake Neucha- 
tel: — 

" In the evening, before the rising 
of the moon, I walked beside the green 
waters of the Thiele. Feeling inclined 
to dream, and finding the air so soft 
that I could pass the whole night in 
the open, I followed the road to Saint- 
Blaise. At the small village of Marin, 
I turned aside to the lake at the south. 



INTRODUCTION xxxi 

and descended a steep bank to the shore, 
where the waves came to die on the 
sands. The air was calm, not a sail 
could be seen on the lake. All were at 
rest, some in the forgetfulness of toil, 
others in the oblivion of sorrow. The 
moon rose; I lingered long. Toward 
morning she spread over the earth and 
the waters the ineffable melancholy of 
her last rays. Nature appears immea- 
surably grand when, lost in reverie, one 
hears the rippling of the waves upon 
the solitary shore, in the calm of a 
night still resplendent and illumined by 
the setting moon. 

" Ineffable sensibility, charm and tor- 
ment of our fruitless years, profound 
realization of a nature everywhere over- 
whelming and everywhere inscrutable, 
all-absorbing passion, deepened wisdom, 
rapturous self-abandonment, — all that 
a human soul can experience of deep 
desire and world- weariness, — I felt it 
all, I lived it all on that memorable 



xxviii INTRODUCTION 

to him, in later years, with almost over- 
whelming force in the hour of his great 
moral crisis. 

In Letter XI, from Paris, hewrites: — 
" It was in March ; I was at Lu — . 
There were violets at the foot of the 
thickets, and lilacs in a little meadow, 
springlike and peaceful, open to the 
southern sun. The house stood high 
above. A terraced garden hid the win- 
dows from sight. Below the meadow, 
steep and rugged rocks formed wall 
upon wall ; at the foot, a wide torrent, 
and beyond, other ledges covered with 
fields, with hedges, and with firs ! 
Across all this stretched the ancient 
walls of the city ; an owl had made his 
home among the ruined towers. In the 
evening, the moon shone, distant horns 
gave answering calls ; and the voice that 
I shall never hear again ! " 

These dreams had passed, and in 
their place had come misfortunes in a 
long and overwhelming train. The 



INTRODUCTION xxix 

loss of his fortune through the French 
Revolution, and of his wife's inheri- 
tance through the Swiss Revolution, a 
painful nervous trouble which deprived 
him throughout his life of the natural 
use of his arms, the long and mortal 
illness of his wife, the death of his 
father and of his much-loved mother, 
separation from his son and from his 
friends, — all these formed the setting 
of a grief, stifling and sombre, that 
found frequent expression in the book 
which was the Journal Intime of Se- 
nancour*s inward experience. 

In a life so grave, so full of disillu- 
sions, Senancour turned for support to 
nature, — to a nature calm, broad, ma- 
jestic, that brought him moments of 
content, almost of happiness. His sen- 
sitive organization responded like an 
echo to every impression from the nat- 
ural world, yet his enjoyment of nature 
had in it as much of an intellectual as 
of an emotional quality. His style at- 



XXX INTRODUCTION 

tracts us, not so much from the sound 
of the words as from the musical flow 
of the phrase and the exquisitely har- 
monious turn of the sentence, the fall- 
ing cadence at the close, with here and 
there a sudden break in the rhythm. 
No one who reads Obermann can fail 
to find rare delight in the charm of its 
cadences, in the remarkable power of 
language which it shows, and in the 
magic faculty of the artist to see the 
elements that constitute a picture. 

On the 19th of July, in Letter IV, 
Senancour writes from Thiel of a night 
spent on the shores of Lake Neucha- 
tel: — 

" In the evening, before the rising 
of the moon, I walked beside the green 
waters of the Thiele. Feeling inclined 
to dream, and finding the air so soft 
that I could pass the whole night in 
the open, I followed the road to Saint- 
Blaise. At the small village of Marin, 
I turned aside to the lake at the south. 



INTRODUCTION xxxi 

and descended a steep bank to the shore, 
where the waves came to die on the 
sands. The air was calm, not a sail 
could be seen on the lake. All were at 
rest, some in the forgetfulness of toil, 
others in the oblivion of sorrow. The 
moon rose; I lingered long. Toward 
morning she spread over the earth and 
the waters the ineffable melancholy of 
her last rays. Nature appears immea- 
surably grand when, lost in reverie, one 
hears the rippling of the waves upon 
the solitary shore, in the calm of a 
night still resplendent and illumined by 
the setting moon. 

" Ineffable sensibility, charm and tor- 
ment of our fruitless years, profound 
realization of a nature everywhere over- 
whelming and everywhere inscrutable, 
all-absorbing passion, deepened wisdom, 
rapturous self-abandonment, — all that 
a human soul can experience of deep 
desire and world- weariness, — I felt it 
all, I lived it all on that memorable 



xxxii INTRODUCTION 

night. I have taken a fatal step towards 
the age of decay ; I have consumed ten 
years of my life. Happy the simple man 
whose heart is always young ! " 

This passage has been quoted before ; 
it cannot be quoted too often. There 
is a sentence in one of Emerson's Let- 
ters to a Friend that reminds one of 
it ; he has been reading the Vedas 
" in the sleep of the great heats," and 
writes : — 

" If I trust myself in the woods or 
in a boat upon the pond, nature makes 
a Brahmin of me presently — eternal 
necessity, eternal compensation, unfath- 
omable power, unbroken silence, this is 
her creed. Peace, she saith to me, and 
purity and absolute abandonment." 

Less lyrical than Maurice de Guerin, 
Senancour was more of a Titan in 
power and daring ; he was an epic 
poet of landscape. Nature in her bolder 
moods appealed to him most strongly ; 
it was not her smiles, her graceful fan- 



INTRODUCTION xxxili 

cies, her waywardness, her exuberance, 
that moved him, as they did the Hghter, 
more " elusive '' temperament of Mau- 
rice de Guerin ; it was the rugged in 
her, the mysterious, the vast ; he loved 
to grapple with the strength, the diffi- 
culties of a wild and savage region. 
And in this he showed an intellectual 
rather than a sensuous quality, a quality 
which it is interesting to trace, even in 
the words used to express the elements 
in nature that aroused his sympathy. 
Maurice de Guerin was attracted by 
the evanescence and grace of nature ; 
Senancour by her "permanence" and 
" austerity." This austerity and per- 
manence are especially insisted upon in 
one of the most striking of the Ober^ 
mann letters, — the letter in which he 
tells of a day spent on the Dent du 
Midi. 

On the 3d of September, in Letter 
VII, he writes from Saint-Maurice : — 

" I have been to the region of per- 



xxxiv INTRODUCTION 

petual ice, on the Dent du Midi. Be- 
fore the sun shone upon the valley I had 
already reached the bluff overlooking 
the tow^n, and was crossing the partly 
cultivated stretch of ground which 
covers it. I went on by a steep ascent, 
through dense forests of fir-trees, leveled 
in many places by winters long since 
passed away : fruitful decay, vast and 
confused mass of a vegetation that had 
died and had regerminated from the 
wrecks of its former life. At eight 
o'clock I had reached the bare summit 
which crowns the ascent, and which 
forms the first salient step in that won- 
drous pile whose highest peak still rose 
so far beyond me. Then I dismissed my 
guide, and put my own powers to the 
test. I wanted that no hireling should 
intrude upon this Alpine liberty, that 
no man of the plains should come to 
weaken the austerity of these savage re- 
gions. ... I stood fixed and exultant 
as I watched the rapid disappearance 



INTRODUCTION xxxv 

of the only man whom I was likely to 
see among these mighty precipices. . . . 

" I cannot give you a true impres- 
sion of this new world, nor express the 
permanence of the mountains in the 
language of the plains." 

The whole of that day he spent 
among the chasms, the granite rocks, 
and the snows of the Alps, taken pos- 
session of by the inexpressible perma- 
nence of life in those silent regions, 
which seemed to have in them less of 
change than of immutability. 

We can see the landscapes which 
Senancour paints; they are bold, vivid, 
and full of atmosphere. And we can 
feel the mysterious hidden life which he 
feels so profoundly, which becomes a 
passion with him, subdues him, absorbs 
him, until he has grown to be a part 
of it. The great Pan claims him. We 
must not, however, mistake Senancour. 
He loves nature, but to him man is 
the highest part of nature ; only, man 



xxxvi INTRODUCTION 

troubles him by departing from primi- 
tive standards, and nature does not. " It 
is true I love only nature/' he writes, 
" but men are still the part of nature 
that I love the best." 

It is not social man, as he existed at 
the close of the eighteenth century, 
that fills this high place in Senancour's 
affections. He pictures to himself a 
primitive life, simple, austere, uniform ; 
a state of human relationships in which 
friendship such as the ancients knew it 
— the friendship of Cicero and Atti- 
cus, of Laelius and Africanus — holds a 
conspicuous place. By nature strong in 
the affections, this bond of two minds 
and souls, united in thought, feeling, 
and belief, the " absolute running of 
two souls into one,'* as Emerson ex- 
presses it, has for him a deep attraction. 
He realizes what Emerson emphasizes 
with greater force when he writes that 
" the sweet sincerity of joy and peace, 
which I draw from this alliance with 



INTRODUCTION xxxvii 

my brother's soul, is the nut itself 
whereof all nature and all thought is 
but the husk and shell/' And so Se- 
nancour writes : " Peace itself is a sad 
blessing when there is no hope of shar- 
ing it." 

Believing firmly in the inborn good- 
ness of humanity, he feels that the dic- 
tates of one's own nature are safe guides 
to be followed in life, " convinced," he 
declares, " that nothing that is natural 
to me is either dangerous or to be con- 
demned." Yet these impulses which he 
acknowledges as wise leaders are never 
to be other than moderate, for, he says, 
" dejection follows every immoderate 
impulse." And the goodness which he 
broadly ascribes to all human nature 
is far from being of a commonplace 
order, to judge from his own definition : 
" True goodness requires wide concep- 
tions, a great soul, and restrained pas- 
sions." Himself a man of restrained 
passions, he willingly believes that all 



xxxviii INTRODUCTION 

men are originally made virtuous, and 
he insists upon the melancholy degen- 
eration of man as he has been made by 
the "caprices of this ephemeral world." 
This forms the keynote of his aver- 
sion for the world, and the reason for 
his appeal to nature when, overwhelmed 
with despair at " the hopeless tangle of 
our age," and with a full sense of his 
own impotence, he seeks solace in the 
strength of the stars and the peace of 
the solitary hills. For nature " holds 
less of what we seek, but . . . we are 
surer of finding the things that she con- 
tains." And thus, he believes, the tie 
is often stronger between man and the 
" friend of man " than between man 
and man ; for " passion goes in quest of 
man, but reason is sometimes obliged to 
forsake him for things that are less good 
and less fatal." Alone, battling with the 
"obstacles and the dangers of rugged 
nature, far from the artificial trammels 
and the ingenious oppression of men," 



INTRODUCTION xxxix 

he feels his whole being broaden. In 
Letter VII, from Saint-Maurice, he 
gives a vivid description of one of his 
first communings with the ** friend of 
man," after he has fled from a world 
which oppressed him, and against which 
he had neither the courage nor the 
power to struggle : — 

" On those desert peaks, where the 
sky is measureless, and the air is more 
stable, and time less fleeting, and life 
more permanent, — there, all nature 
gives eloquent expression to a vaster 
order, a more visible harmony, an eter- 
nal whole. There, man is reinstated in 
his changeful but indestructible form; 
he breathes a free air far from social 
emanations ; ... he lives a life of 
reality in the midst of sublime unity." 

In this very year Wordsworth was 
writing : — 

" To her fair works did Nature link 
The human soul that through me ran ; 
And much it grieved my heart to think 
What man has made of man." 



xl INTRODUCTION 

We can now, I think, understand in 
a measure why Senancour has remained 
obscure. He shunned the world, and 
the world neglected him ; he could not 
make his way with a public whom he 
ignored and disliked. Shrinking from 
contact with men, craving neither ap- 
plause nor popularity, despising every 
means of obtaining celebrity that savored 
of intrigue or expedient, he marked out 
for himself a rigid line of sincerity and 
truth. 

" If it is not sufficient,'' he writes, 
" to say things that are true, and to 
strive to express them in persuasive lan- 
guage, I shall not have success.*' 

And in harmony with this ideal of 
literary simplicity and directness was the 
feeling he had that an author should 
not strive to receive " approbation dur- 
ing his lifetime." The only success he 
honored and desired was the austere 
success of the future which assigns a 
work "to its right place." Surely this 



INTRODUCTION xli 

was not the temperament from which 
springs the desire to court notoriety or 
the power to win it. 

Another reason for Senancour's fail- 
ure to reach general appreciation is 
perhaps his uneven ness. Like Words- 
worth, he falls, at times, far below his 
level ; not that he is ever weak, but in 
his tendency to repetition he becomes 
tiresome. Although in his later work 
he shows more unity and a clearer sense 
of proportion, in Ohermann he is want- 
ing in what is necessary to the creation 
of a complete work of art, the power to 
distinguish between the essential and the 
non-essential. It is this power which 
makes Chateaubriand's Rene a finished 
painting, and the lack of this power 
which makes Ohermann a portfolio of 
sketches as exquisite as Turner's water- 
colors, intermingled with minute stud- 
ies of unimportant details. 

Ohermann has been compared to 
Kene. Both books describe the same 



xlii INTRODUCTION 

order of psychologic experience ; they 
are both the expression of thwarted 
lives, of unsatisfied cravings. But there 
exists this difference between them : 
Rene represents passionate struggle, and 
later, victory ; Obermann, despairing ac- 
ceptance, and later, resignation. With 
Rene, nature is secondary to moral pow- 
er ; his expression is strong, brilliant, 
vigorous. With Obermann, nature is 
the spring of all beauty and perfection, 
she is mystic, vast, inscrutable ; his ex- 
pression has something of the sensitive, 
the hidden charm which he has caught 
from the inner life of nature. 

We know that Senancour became 
familiar with the works of his great 
contemporary, Chateaubriand, and that 
in 1816 he published a critical study 
of the Genie du Christianisme, in which 
he exposed with merciless candor and 
logic the insincerity of Chateaubriand's 
religious position. But at the time 
that Senancour wrote Obermann^ while 



INTRODUCTION xliii 

he had read Atala^ as he himself tells 
us, Rene and the Genie du Christianisme 
were still unknown to him. Whatever 
similarity existed between Obermann 
and Rene was therefore due to the 
spirit that animated the whole literary 
movement of the time, to the roman- 
tic tendency of which they were the 
simultaneous expression. 

Another parallel that suggests itself 
is with Amiel ; but here, too, there is a 
marked difference. Senancour's render- 
ing of nature, which makes him worthy 
of being classed among the poets, is on 
a far higher plane of beauty than that 
of Amiel, while he is greatly Amiel's 
inferior in strength of intellect, cul- 
ture, and mental training. It is Amiel's 
keenness and justness as a critic of life 
and things, of men and books, that give 
him his claim to distinction. Senan- 
cour is a poet and moralist, Amiel a 
critic and speculative philosopher. The 
difference in their style is equally 



xliv INTRODUCTION 

marked : Amiel is at his best where he 
is incisive, critical, epigrammatic, full 
of verve, cutting to the root of his sub- 
ject like fine steel ; Senancour, w^here 
he is poetical and meditative. The 
philosophy of Amiel is on a far more 
intricate scale and takes a more promi- 
nent place in his 'Journal than does that 
of Senancour in Obermann; but the idea 
of the indefinite, miscalled the infinite, 
appeals equally to both, though in dif- 
ferent ways. Amiel is fascinated by it, 
— his individual life is absorbed, evap- 
orated, lost, in the universal nothing ; 
while Senancour, alone, as an individual, 
stands face to face with an immutable 
and inscrutable eternity, which terrifies 
and overwhelms him, but which he 
desires to comprehend through an 
etherealized intelligence. The com- 
mon ground on which they meet is 
their desire to be in unison with the 
life of nature, their mystical pantheism, 
and their morbid melancholia which 



INTRODUCTION xlv 

leads them into pessimism, — all of 
these traits being an inheritance from 
their great progenitor, Rousseau. It 
was the malady of the century, — 
"melancholy, languor, lassitude, dis- 
couragement,*' as we find in Amiel's 
'Journal^ — lack of will power, the 
capacity to suffer, a minute psychologic 
analysis, the turning of life into a dream 
without production, that formed the 
basis of their affinity. 

We must, in fact, go back to the 
ideas that formed the spring of the 
Revolutionary movement and changed 
the conditions of modern society, to 
find the common meeting-ground of 
all the romanticists. Unswerving belief 
in human nature, desire for the simpli- 
fication of life and dislike of the com- 
plicated social conditions of the old 
order, passionate love of the natural 
world, full return to nature as the ideal 
of life, glorification of savage man, — 
these ideas, formulated by Rousseau, 



xlvi INTRODUCTION 

were the inspiration of Chateaubriand, 
Senancour, and Amiel. Rousseau, as 
the father of the movement, became 
the chief influence in the work of his 
successors : he set the type for their 
beHefs ; he opened the path through 
which all were to walk, — some as 
leaders, like Chateaubriand, others as 
recluses, like Senancour ; his spirit per- 
vaded not only France, but Europe ; 
from him proceeded Childe Harold^ 
Werther, and Rene, as well as Ohermann, 
The poet with whom Senancour has 
most of kinship in mood, in feeling, in 
charm of expression, is Matthew Ar- 
nold. That Obermann exerted a strong 
influence over Matthew Arnold's early 
years is clear from several references in 
both of the Obermann poems. " We 
feel thy spell ! '' the English poet cries, 
and that spell draws him to solitude, to 
sad reverie, to companionship with the 
eremite, the " master of my wandering 
youth/' the name he gives, many years 



INTRODUCTION xlvii 

later, to Obermann. Bat stronger still 
than this inclination is the opposite 
impulsion, the necessity which is upon 
him to go out into the strife of men, 
— an unseen driving power which he 
calls fate, but which we might call con- 
science. And so he cries : — 

" I go, fate drives me ; but I leave 
Half of my life with you." 

Yet with him he carries into the world 

that thing which 

" has been lent 
To youth and age in common discontent," 

and the 

" infinite desire 
For all that might have been," 

and 

" The eternal note of sadness." 

It is the poet in Matthew Arnold 
that claims " fellowship of mood " and 
sympathy with the poet in Senancour. 
This may explain why Matthew Arnold 
has not given of him one of his delight- 
ful critical portraits. The affinity is too 



xlviii INTRODUCTION 

close, the influence too subtle, to be 
brought within the limits of analysis. 
But beyond this personal affinity of 
mood, Matthew Arnold reveres Ober- 
mann as a sage and seer. Every one 
will recall those verses, in the first 
Obermann poem, beginning : — 

" Yet, of the spirits who have reigned 
In this our troubled day, 
I know but two, who have attained, 
Save thee, to see their way." 

These two spirits are Wordsworth 
and Goethe. 

Twenty years later he returns to 
" Obermann once more,'* and in a vi- 
sion is charged by the ancient sage to 
carry to the world the message of that 
hope for which Senancour had so pas- 
sionately longed. Obermann, addressing 
the younger poet, urges him to tell, — 

" Hope to a world new-made ! 
Help it to fill that deep desire, 
The want which crazed our brain, 
Consumed our soul with thirst like fire, 
Immedicable pain.'* 



INTRODUCTION xlix 

Matthew Arnold here constitutes 
himself the disciple and exponent of 
Obermann, the interpreter of his aspi- 
rations, and the complement, as it were, 
of his unfulfilled and disappointed life. 

The fellowship of Matthew Arnold 
with Obermann is seen in several of his 
poems, in The Grande Chartreuse, The 
Youth of Nature y The Touth of Man, and 
markedly in Sef -Dependence, 

Indirectly it is also apparent in many 
modes of thought and feeling. In both 
poets there is a ground tone of melan- 
choly underlying the passionate craving 
for tranquillity and joy, which leaves 
them forever reaching out toward a 
goal that can never be attained. To- 
gether with this is the sense of the 
futility of human effort, and a blind re- 
liance on fate. Both are stoical in their 
austerity, and both are transcendental 
in their tendencies. In both we find a 
deep discontent with " the thousand 
discords,'* and the "vain turmoil" of 



1 INTRODUCTION 

the world ; a desire to be in sympathy 
and union with the inner life of the 
universe ; to 

" Yearn to the greatness of Nature ; " 

and the final appeal to nature, whose 
glory and greatness and calm are alone 
enduring, while all else is subject to 
change, — a nature who can say of men 
in Matthew Arnold's words : — 

*' They are dust, they are changed, they are gone ! 
I remain." 

And how like Senancour is the spirit 
of these lines : — 

" For the world, which seems 
To lie before us like a land of dreams. 
So various, so beautiful, so new, 
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, 
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain." 

But this resemblance, strong as it is 
in many ways, belongs more to their 
moods, their ethical attitude toward 
life, the peculiar temper of their minds, 
than to character, or intellect, or crea- 
tive power. As a result of this affinity 



INTRODUCTION li 

of sentiment is a certain similarity in 
rhythm, the outward but elusive ex- 
pression of the inner feeling. In both 
writers we find the same note of sad- 
ness in the cadence, the same grace and 
charm of diction, the same dying fall 
at the end of the sentence, like the ebb 
and flow of the waves on the shore. 
Especially is this evident in The Youth 
of Marly The Touth of Nature ^ parts of 
Tristram and Iseult, and Dover Beach, 
There exists this difference between 
them : in Senancour the expression is 
spontaneous and natural ; in Matthew 
Arnold it is finished, and the result of 
art and study. 

Senancour's inward changes during 
the twenty -five years that followed 
the appearance of his first work, the 
Reveries, were great; they formed a 
gradual and continuous growth, from 
despair to resignation, from restlessness 
to calm, from doubt to belief, from ma- 
terialism through pantheism to theism. 



Hi INTRODUCTION 

Throughout Obermann we see traces of 
a passionate longing for more than na- 
ture could give him, something higher 
than nature. On the 17th of August, 
in Letter XVIII, from Fontainebleau, 
he writes : — 

" I am filled with an unrest that will 
never leave me ; it is a craving I do not 
comprehend, which overrules me, ab- 
sorbs me, lifts me above the things that 
perish. . . . You are mistaken, and I 
too was once mistaken ; it is not the 
desire for love. A great distance lies 
between the void that fills my heart and 
the love that I have so deeply desired ; 
but the infinite stretches between what 
I am and what I crave to be. Love is 
vast, but it is not the infinite. I do not 
desire enjoyment ; I long for hope, I 
crave knowledge ! . . . I desire a good, 
a dream, a hope, that shall be ever 
before me, beyond me, greater even 
than my expectation, greater than what 
passes away." 



INTRODUCTION liii 

At the time he wrote these words, 
he had no belief in the immortality of 
the soul, no hope beyond this world. 
Later, this belief and this hope were to 
come to him ; but even then he had 
glimpses of the future peace, as when 
he writes, in Letter XIX, on the i8th 
of August : — 

"There are moments when I am 
filled with hope and a sense of liberty ; 
time and things pass before me with 
majestic harmony,and I feel happy. . . . 
Happy ! I ? And yet I am, and happy 
to overflowing, like one who reawakens 
from the terrors of a dream to a life of 
peace and liberty. . . . But the moment 
passes ; a cloud drifts across the sun and 
shuts out its inspiring light ; the birds 
are hushed ; the growing darkness drives 
away both my dream and my joy.'' 

The time was to come when this life 
of " peace and liberty " would no longer 
be seen by snatches, between the drift- 
ing clouds, but would fill him with the 



liv INTRODUCTION 

serenity he so ardently craved. Perhaps 
he little dreamed that his pray er, framed 
as a question, was to be answered in his 
life with the same beauty that he pic- 
tured it in words. In Letter XXIII, 
dated on the i8th of October from 
Fontainebleau, we find this passage : — 

" Will it also be given unto man to 
know the long peace of autumn after 
the unrest of the strength of his years, 
even as the fire, after its haste to be con- 
sumed, lingers before it is quenched ? 

" Long before the equinox, the leaves 
had fallen in quantities, yet the forest 
still holds much of its verdure and all 
of its beauty. More than forty days ago 
everything looked as though it would 
end before its time, and now all things 
are enduring beyond their allotted days ; 
receiving, at the very door of destruc- 
tion, a lengthened life, which lingers on 
the threshold of its decay with abundant 
grace or security, and seems to borrow, 
as it weakens with gentle loitering, both 



INTRODUCTION Iv 

from the repose of approaching death 
and from the charm of departing life." 
This we may take as a picture of his 
own old age. Not that his material sur- 
roundings had in any way improved ; 
the change was internal, and was the ful- 
fillment of his own words : " The true 
life of man is within himself; what he 
absorbs from the outside world is merely 
accidental and subordinate.** The fruit 
of this change came to maturity in his 
last important work. Litres Meditations^ 
written fifteen years after Obermann, 
In the writer of the Meditations we see 
a man who has profoundly suffered, and 
whose spirit has been softened, chas- 
tened, harmonized. His last word to the 
world is the calm, majestic expression 
of one who has realized the existence 
of a distant truth, and has succeeded in 
lessening the space which separated him 
from it. It is the answer to the restless 
questionings, the doubt of Obermann. 
Even in Obermann he had begun to feel 



Ivi INTRODUCTION 

that nature was not the beginning and 
the end of all things. On a day in Au- 
gust, in Letter XVI, he writes from 
Fontainebleau : — 

" What noble sentiments ! What 
memories ! What quiet majesty in a 
night, soft, calm, luminous ! What 
grandeur ! But the soul is overwhelmed 
with doubt. It sees that the feelings 
aroused by sentient things lead it into 
error ; that truth exists, but in the far 
distance." 

In the Meditations the pursuit of this 
distant truth has led him to belief in 
a God, in a future life, in a governing 
power in the universe ; nature is the 
proof of divine wisdom ; the world we 
live in, and the world to which we are 
pressing forward, are the results of di- 
vine justice. The Meditations is a work 
of distinct ethical value ; its writer a 
moralist of the type of Marcus Aure- 
lius. The classic dignity and repose of 
its style, its full and measured numbers. 



INTRODUCTION Ivii 

like the solemn harmonies of church 
music, are the perfect outward expres- 
sion of elevation of thought, a poised 
nature, a spirit of peace and consola- 
tion. We are lifted above the strife of 
the world to a region of moral grandeur. 
The poet is lost in the seer. 

This change, although so fundamen- 
tal, is not a mark of inconsistency. The 
youth of nineteen who ran away from 
home to avoid acting a part is still the 
man of maturity who wrote the Medi- 
tations ; genuineness, simplicity, and the 
love of truth form the basis of his na- 
ture. 

Senancour lived twenty-seven years 
after writing the Meditations, and the 
spirit of calm continued to grow upon 
him ; yet his external life can scarcely 
have held more of happiness in his old 
age than it had in his youth. He had 
left Switzerland many years before, soon 
after the completion of Obermann, and 
had returned to Paris, where, poor and 



Iviii INTRODUCTION 

almost in want, he lived a secluded life, 
with his daughter as his only companion, 
in a house near the Place de la Bastile, 
on the Rue de la Cerisaie, a street of 
interesting historic memories connected 
with Charles VI and Francis I. There, 
a recluse in the midst of the world, he 
composed his Meditations^ and there, 
obliged to live by his pen, the only way 
open to him, he wrote for the periodi- 
cals and journals of Paris, edited ency- 
clopaedias, prepared historical summa- 
ries, and spent years in the drudgery of 
the literary profession. In 1846, four 
years before the death of Wordsworth, 
at the age of seventy-six, he died at St. 
Cloud, a lonely old man. 



OBERMANN 



LETTERS 

TO A 

FRIEND 

Letter I 

Geneva, July 8th, ist year,* 

■0- ^ ^ ^ 1^ OT more than ten days have 
2 TVT ^ passed since I wrote to you 
^ -A. ^ ^ from Lyons. I did not men- 
^ ^ ^ ^ ^- tion any new project; I had 
none ; and now I have left everything 
behind, I am in a strange land. . . . 

Even at this moment I am at a loss 
to judge of a resolution which has swept 
away all former plans,^ which carries 
me abruptly into new surroundings, 
which destines me for things I had not 
anticipated, the developments and con- 
sequences of which I cannot even fore- 



4 OBERMANN 

see. ... A narrow and timorous pru- 
dence in those on whom fate made me 
dependent, wasted my early years, and 
has fettered my entire Ufe. Wisdom 
treads between diffidence and temerity ; 
the path is difficult. We must follow 
her in ways that she can see ; but in 
ways unknown, instinct is our only 
guide. Though instinct may be more 
dangerous than prudence, it accom- 
plishes greater things. It is our ruin, or 
our salvation ; its temerity becomes at 
times our only refuge, and its mission 
may be to redress the wrongs that pru- 
dence has wrought. 

The yoke must either have weighed 
me down irrevocably or have been 
shaken off without heed ; the alterna- 
tive seemed inevitable. You well know 
what a wretched chain was being 
forged. I was to do what it was impos- 
sible for me to do well. I was to fill a 
position for its emoluments, use the 
faculties of my being for what essen- 



OBERMANN 5 

tially shocked its nature. Was it my 
duty to yield in momentary compliance, 
to deceive a parent into thinking that 
I was undertaking for my entire life 
what I should have begun merely with 
the longing that it might end, and thus 
live in a false position, in a state of con- 
tinual antipathy ? May he recognize 
my powerlessness to satisfy him, may he 
forgive me ! May he come to feel . . . 
that a profession cannot be looked upon 
as honest, simply because one can earn 
an income of thirty or forty thousand 
francs without theft ; and that I could 
not sacrifice my manhood, in order to 
become a man of affairs. 

I do not seek to persuade you, I re- 
call facts ; you are the judge. A friend 
must judge without too great leniency, 
as you have said. . . . 

I searched my heart ; I passed rapidly 
in review all my surroundings. From 
men, I strove to learn whether they felt 
as I did; from things, whether they 



6 OBERMANN 

were in accord with my inclinations ; 
and I saw that I was out of harmony 
with society, that my needs were not 
in touch with its handiwork. I checked 
myself with terror, feeling that I was 
on the verge of giving up my life to in- 
tolerable weariness, to a loathing with- 
out aim and without end. To my heart 
I offered in succession all things sought 
by men in the various professions which 
they elect. I even strove to adorn, 
through the magic of the imagination, 
those complex aims which they hold 
up to their passions, and the chimeric 
end to which they devote their years. 
I attempted it, but in vain. Why is 
the earth thus disenchanted to my eyes ? 
It is not satiety that I feel ; on all sides 
I find a void. 

On that day when, for the first time, 
I felt the nothingness which surrounds 
me, on that day which changed the 
course of my life, had the pages of my 
destiny lain in my hands to be forever 



OBERMANN 7 

opened or closed, with what indiffer- 
ence would I have renounced the empty 
succession of hours, so long yet so fleet- 
ing, which such bitterness has sullied, 
and which no true joy can console ! 
You know that it is my misfortune not 
to have the capacity to be young ; the 
long weariness of my early life has 
apparently destroyed the seductions of 
youth. Its blooming exterior does not 
deceive me ; my half-closed eyes are 
never dazzled ; too steady, they are not 
taken by surprise. 

That day of irresolution was at least 
a day of light ; it made me see things 
within, which before had not been 
clear. Plunged in the deepest perplex- 
ity of my life, I had for the first time 
a full consciousness of my being. Pur- 
sued even to the melancholy calm of 
my usual apathy, forced to be some- 
thing, I was at last myself; and in these 
emotions, hitherto unfelt, I found an 
energy, at first constrained and painful. 



8 OBERMANN 

but the fullness of which grew to be a 
repose that was new to me. Out of this 
condition, so unexpected and so full of 
peace, my determining thought took 
shape ; and I saw, as I believed, the 
reason for what we observe every day, 
that the actual differences in the lot of 
man are not the principal cause of his 
happiness or his misery. 

The true life of man is within him- 
self; what he absorbs from the out- 
side world is merely accidental and 
subordinate. Things influence him far 
more through the situation in which 
they find him than through their own 
nature. Were he to be continually 
moulded by them throughout the 
whole course of his life, he might be- 
come their creature. But in this ever- 
moving sequence, he alone subsists, 
though altered, while external objects 
related to him are wholly changed; 
thus, each of their impressions upon 
him depends far more, for his happi- 



OBERMANN 9 

ness or his misery, upon the condition 
in which they find him, than upon the 
sensation they produce or the accidental 
change in him they cause. Thus, in 
each separate moment of his life, to be 
what he ought to be, is of the highest 
importance to man. 

^ ^ ^ 

As soon as man reflects, as soon as he 
is not carried away by his first impulse, 
and by the unconscious laws of instinct, 
all morality becomes, in a sense, a mat- 
ter of calculation, and prudence lies in 
the estimate of the more or the less. 

i^ ^ ^ 

Independent of the world, and in the 
silence of the passions, we can study 
ourselves. I shall choose a retreat in the 
calm of those heights which even in 
childhood left an impression on my 
mind. 

^ ^ ^ 



lo OBERMANN 



Letter II 

Lausanne^ July gthy 1st year. 

YOU have not seen this land, neither 
can you picture it to yourself; 
the imagination is powerless to draw, 
in their true lines, the grand effects of 
nature. Had I felt less deeply the 
grandeur and harmony of the scene 
as a whole, had not the purity of 
the atmosphere added a quality beyond 
the power of words to express, were I 
different from what I am. I should 
strive to picture to you these snow-clad 
and resplendent heights ; these valleys 
flooded with mist ; the steep, black 
cliffs of Savoy ; the hills of La Vaux 
and the Jorat, too verdant, perhaps, but 
crowned by the Alps of Gruyeres and 
Ormont ; and the wide waters of Lake 
Leman, the sweep of its waves, and its 
measured peace. Perhaps the secret 



OBERMANN ii 

emotions of my heart added to the 
magic of these scenes ; perhaps no man, 
at sight of them, has felt all that I have 
felt. . . . 

I should be loath to believe that a 
man whose heart has been wounded by 
familiarity with sorrow, has not, by his 
very suffering, been given the power 
to enjoy delights unknown to the 
happy — ^joys that are broader and more 
lasting than theirs, and of a nature to 
sustain old age itself. As for myself, 
I realized at that moment, when no- 
thing was wanting but another heart 
to feel as I felt, that a single hour of 
one's life may be worth a whole year 
of existence, that everything is relative 
within us and without us, and that our 
troubles come chiefly from our being 
out of place in the social order. . . . 

I was under the pines of the Jorat ; 
the evening was beautiful, the woods 
silent, the air calm, the sunset misty, 
but cloudless. Everything seemed sta- 



12 OBERMANN 

tionary, illumined, motionless ; then, 
suddenly, as I raised my eyes, long fixed 
upon the moss where I was sitting, 
there came to me an impressive illusion, 
which the mood of reverie that I was 
in helped to prolong. The steep slope 
that reached down to the lake was hid- 
den by the knoll on which I sat ; and 
the surface of the lake, seeming to rise 
as it receded into distance, lifted the 
opposite shore into the air. The Alps 
of Savoy were half veiled by the mist, 
and all were blended and merged into 
the same shades. The light of the sun- 
set and the haze of the air in the depths 
of the Valais uplifted the mountains 
and divided them from the earth, by 
making their lower slopes invisible ; 
and their colossal bodies, without form, 
without color, sombre and snowy, illu- 
mined yet shadowy, had the appearance 
of a mass of storm clouds suspended in 
space : there was no earth save that 
which held me above the void, alone 
in immensity. 



OBERMANN 13 

That moment was worthy of the 
first day in a new life. . . . 

Letter III 

Cully ^^ July iithy ist year, 

THE storm has passed, the even- 
ing is beautiful. My windows 
open on the lake ; the white spray of 
the waves is tossed, now and again, into 
my room; it has even bathed the roof. 
The wind blows from the southwest, 
and it is at this point that the waves 
sweep to their full height and strength. 
This movement and these measured 
sounds give to the soul a powerful im- 
petus. Were it my lot to go beyond 
the bounds of ordinary life, were it 
given me to truly live, yet were I 
weighed down with discouragement, I 
should wish to stand alone for a little 
while on the shores of a wave-tossed 
lake; I believe there would then be 



14 OBERMANN 

no deeds so great but that I could 
accomplish them. . . . 

I write you even as I should talk, as 
one talks to one's self. At times there 
is nothing to say, yet one still feels the 
need of talking ; that is often the mo- 
ment when one rambles on with the 
greatest ease. The only kind of walk 
that gives real pleasure is when we 
wander without aim, solely for the love 
of walking, looking for something, we 
know not what ; when the air is still, 
the sky gray, and we are free from 
care, indifferent to time, and plunge at 
random through the gullies and into the 
woods of an unknown region ; when 
we talk of mushrooms, of roes, of the 
red leaves as they begin to fall ; when 
I say to you : " This is a spot like the 
one where my father lingered, ten years 
ago, to play at quoits with me, and 
where he left his hanger, which, the 
next day, could not be found;" when 
you say to me : " The place where we 



OBERMANN 15 

have just crossed the stream would 
have deHghted my father. During the 
last days of his life he was frequently 
driven a long distance from the city to 
a dense wood, where there were rocks 
and water ; then he left the carriage, 
and sometimes alone, sometimes with 
me, he sat on one of the rocks ; we 
read together the Vies des Peres du de- 
serts He would say to me : * If in my 
youth I had entered a monastery, in 
answer to the call of God, I should not 
have suffered all the affliction that has 
fallen to my lot in the world, I should 
not to-day be so infirm and so broken ; 
but I should have had no son, and, in 
dying, I should leave nothing upon the 
earth.' '' . . . And now he is no longer 
here ! They are not here ! . . . 

When we used to lose ourselves in 
the woods of the Forez, we wandered 
freely and at random. A strange so- 
lemnity would hover over the memo- 
ries of a time long since passed away. 



i6 OBERMANN 

which seemed to come back to us in the 
depths and the majesty of the woods. 
How it enlarges the soul to meet with 
things beautiful, yet unforeseen ! Those 
things which are the province of the 
soul ought not, I think, to be fore- 
known and ordered ; let us leave it to 
the mind to study by rule, and to bring 
symmetry into its work. But the heart 
does not work, and if you call upon it 
to produce, it will produce nothing ; 
cultivation makes it sterile. 



Letter IV 

Thiely July igthy ist year. 

MY window was open at night. 
Towards four o'clock I was 
awakened by the splendor of the dawn, 
and the scent of the new-mown hay, 
cut in the fresh night air, by the light 
of the moon. I looked for an ordinary 
view ; I was given a moment of won- 



OBERMANN 17 

der. The waters, which had already 
risen by the mehing of the Jura snows, 
were kept at their full by the rains 
of the summer solstice. The plain be- 
tween the lake^ and the Thiele'' was 
flooded in parts ; the highest levels 
formed lonely pastures, rising out of 
the midst of the fields of water ruffled 
by the fresh winds of the morning. 
The waves of the lake were driven 
afar by the wind, over the half-sub- 
merged shore. At that moment some 
cows and goats, and the goatherd play- 
ing a wild melody on his horn, passed 
over a dry strip of land between the 
flooded plain and the Thiele. A few 
stones, thrown here and there into the 
deepest places, supported and length- 
ened out this natural causeway ; the 
pasture, to which these docile creatures 
were on their way, was out of sight ; 
and to watch their slow and uncertain 
gait, it seemed as though they would 
step into the lake and be lost. The 



i8 OBERMANN 

heights of Anet, and the deep forests 
of the Jolimont, rose out of the heart 
of the waters, Hke a wild and unin- 
habited island. The hilly chain of the 
Vuilly bordered the lake on the ho- 
rizon. Towards the south, it stretched 
its length behind the slopes of Mont- 
mirail ; and beyond all, sixty leagues of 
a century's ice gave to the whole coun- 
try that inimitable majesty by which 
nature with her boldest strokes makes 
earth sublime. . . . 

In the evening, before the rising of 
the moon, I walked beside the green 
waters of the Thiele. Feeling inclined 
to dream, and finding the air so soft 
that I could pass the whole night in 
the open, I followed the road to Saint- 
Blaise. At the small village of Marin, 
I turned aside to the lake at the 
south, and descended a steep bank to 
the shore, where the waves came to die 
on the sands. The air was calm, not a 
sail could be seen on the lake. All were 



OBERMANN 19 

at rest, some in the forgetfulness of toil, 
others in the obHvion of sorrow. The 
moon rose ; I Hngered long. Towards 
morning she spread over the earth and 
the waters the ineffable melancholy of 
her last rays. Nature appears immea- 
surably grand when, lost in reverie, one 
hears the rippling of the waves upon 
the solitary shore, in the calm of a night 
still resplendent and illumined by the 
setting moon. 

Ineffable sensibility, charm and tor- 
ment of our fruitless years, profound 
realization of a nature everywhere over- 
whelming and everywhere inscrutable, 
all-absorbing passion, deepened wisdom, 
rapturous self-abandonment, — all that 
a human soul can experience of deep de- 
sire and world-weariness, — I felt it all, 
I lived it all on that memorable night. 
I have taken a fatal step towards the 
age of decay ; I have consumed ten 
years of my life. Happy the simple 
man whose heart is always young ! 



20 OBERMANN 

There, in the peace of the night, I 
questioned my uncertain destiny, my 
restless heart, and that incomprehensi- 
ble nature which, containing all things, 
seems yet not to hold the object of my 
desires. What am I, then ? I asked 
myself. What melancholy mixture of 
all-embracing affection and of indiffer- 
ence towards every aim of actual life ? 

Always seeking what I shall never 
find, an alien in the midst of nature, 
out of place among men, empty af- 
fections will alone be my lot ; and 
whether I live unto myself, or whether 
I live unto men, I shall suffer either 
oppression from without or restraint 
from within — nothing but the perpet- 
ual torment of a life forever repressed 
and forever miserable. . . . 

It is true I love only nature ; but for 
this very reason, while I love myself, I 
do not love myself exclusively, and 
other men are still the part of nature 
that I love the best. I feel a compel- 



OBERMANN 21 

ling power which binds me to every 
loving influence ; my heart, full of it- 
self, of humanity, and of the primitive 
harmony of beings, has never known 
any personal or contentious passion. I 
love myself, but as a part of nature, in 
the order of things which she ordains, 
in companionship with men whom she 
chooses, whom she has made, and in 
harmony with the totality of things. 
Nothing of what exists, has, in truth, 
won the fullness of my love, and a void 
beyond utterance forever fills my trou- 
bled soul. But all that I love might ex- 
ist, the whole earth might be according 
to my heart, without a single change in 
nature, or in man himself, excepting 
the ephemeral accidents of the social 
order. . . . 

I love existing things ; I love them 
as they are. I neither desire, nor seek, 
nor imagine anything outside of nature. 
My thoughts, so far from wandering 
towards strange or complex aims, so far 



22 OBERMANN 

from being attracted to remote or un- 
usual things, and I, so far from being 
indifferent to what is around me, to 
what nature daily produces, or aspiring 
to what is denied me, to things foreign 
and unfamiliar, to improbable circum- 
stances, and to a romantic destiny, — 
I desire, I ask of nature and of man, I 
claim for the whole span of my life, 
only those things which belong inevi- 
tably to nature, which all men must 
possess, which alone can employ our 
days and fill our hearts, and which form 
the groundwork of life. 

While I do not crave what is com- 
plex and uncommon, neither do I long 
for what is novel, varied, or profuse. 
What has once pleased me, will always 
please me ; what has before satisfied 
me, will satisfy me always.^ A day like 
unto the day that once was happy, is 
still a happy day for me. . . . 

The love of power or of riches is 
almost as foreign to my nature as envy. 



OBERMANN 23 

hatred, or revenge. Nothing should 
aHenate me from other men. I am 
the rival of none ; I can no more envy 
than hate them ; I should refuse w^hat 
impassions them, I should decline to 
triumph over them, and I do not even 
desire to surpass them in virtue. I rely 
upon my natural goodness. Happy in 
that I need make no effort not to do 
wrong, I shall not torment myself 
w^ithout cause ; and provided I am an 
honest man, I shall not pretend to be 
virtuous. 

Virtue is a high merit, but I rejoice 
in that it is not indispensable to me, 
and I leave it to other men ; the only 
rivalry that might have existed between 
us, is thus destroyed. Their virtues are 
as ambitious as their passions ; they dis- 
play them with ostentation, and what 
they strive for is, above all, priority. 
I am not, nor shall I ever be, their com- 
petitor, even on this point. What do I 
lose by the concession of this superior- 



24 OBERMANN 

ity ? In what they call virtues, the only 
ones that are useful are natural, in a 
man constituted as I am, and as I would 
willingly believe all men originally are ; 
the others, complex, austere, arrogant, 
and imposing, do not take their spring 
directly from man's nature. This is 
why I consider them either false or 
empty, and am not anxious to obtain 
credit for them, — a credit which is in 
any case rather uncertain. . . . 

Whatever happens, I must remain 
always the same, and always myself; 
not precisely what I am in the midst 
of ways antagonistic to my nature, but 
what I feel myself to be, what I desire 
to be, what I am in that internal life, 
which is the only refuge of my sorrow- 
ful affections. 

I shall examine myself, I shall study 
myself, I shall sound this heart, which 
is naturally true and loving, but which 
much weariness may have already dis- 
couraged. I shall decide what I am, or 



OBERMANN 25 

rather what I ought to be ; and having 
once established this type, I shall strive 
to preserve it throughout my life, con- 
vinced that whatever is natural to me 
is neither dangerous nor to be con- 
demned, firm in the belief that one is 
never right unless following one's own 
nature,^ and fully determined to repress 
nothing in myself, excepting what 
would tend to alter my original estate. 
I have known the enthusiasm of the 
sterner virtues ; in my proud error, 
I thought to replace all the motive 
powers of social life by this other, 
equally illusive, motive power. My 
stoic strength braved misfortune, as 
well as passions, and I was convinced 
that I should be the happiest of men 
if I were the most virtuous. The illu- 
sion lasted, in its full force, for about a 
month ; a single incident swept it away. 
Then it was that all the bitterness of a 
colorless and fleeting life came to fill 
my soul, after it had renounced the last 



26 OBERMANN 

spell that had beguiled it. Since then 
I have made no further pretence of 
employing my life ; I seek only to fill 
it. I exact, not that it shall be virtuous, 
but that it shall never be culpable. 

And how can one aspire even to this, 
how attain it ? Where can one find 
days that are easy, simple, employed, 
uniform ? How escape misfortune ? 
This is the limit of my desire. But 
what a destiny, when sorrows endure, 
and pleasures vanish ! Perchance some 
days of peace will be granted to me ; 
but never again enchantment, never 
intoxication, never a moment of pure 
joy ; never! and I am not yet twenty- 
one ! and I was born sensitive, ardent ! 
and I have never tasted the joys of fru- 
ition ! and after death . . . Nothing 
more in life, nothing in nature. . . . 
I have not wept ; the fountain of my 
tears is dry. . . . 

You who know me, who understand 
me, but who, happier and wiser than I, 



OBERMANN 27 

submit without impatience to the cus- 
toms of life, — you realize, in this our 
doomed separation, the nature of those 
desires which in me can never be satis- 
fied. One thing consoles me ; you are 
mine ; this feeling will never pass away. 
. . . You are the staff on which I love 
to lean amid the restlessness that leads 
me astray, to which I love to return 
after I have tried all things, and have 
found myself alone in the world. Could 
we live together, were we sufficient 
unto each other, I should cease my 
wanderings, I should know rest, I 
should accomplish something upon the 
earth, and my life would begin. But 
I must wait, seek, press onward to the 
unknown ; and, ignorant of my goal, I 
must fly from the present, even as 
though the future held for me some 
hope. 



28 OBERMANN 

Letter V 

Saint-Maurice y"" August iSthy ist year. 

AT last I have made up my mind; 
I shall pass the winter here. . . . 

I slept at Villeneuve," a melancholy 
spot in such a beautiful country. Be- 
fore the heat of the day, I wandered 
over the wooded slopes of Saint-Try- 
phon, and through the unbroken stretch 
of orchards which cover the valley as 
far as Bex. I walked between the Alps, 
which, on each side, rose in two high 
mountain-chains ; surrounded by their 
snows, I took my way along a level 
road in the heart of a fruitful country, 
which, in times past, seems to have lain 
almost entirely under water. 

The valley of the Rhone, from Mar- 
tigny to the lake, is almost shut in by 
rocky ledges, covered with forests and 
with clearings, which form the first 
steps of the Dent de Morcles and the Dent 



OBERMANN 29 

du Midiy and are divided only by the 
bed of the river/^ Towards the north, 
these ledges are wooded, here and there, 
with chestnut-trees, and near the sum- 
mit with fir-trees. In this wild region 
is my dwelling, at the foot of the Dent 
du Midiy one of the most beautiful of 
the Alpine peaks. ... » 

At sight of these gorges, fertile and 
inhabited, yet still wild, I turned aside 
from the road to Italy, which at this 
point takes a bend towards the town of 
Bex, and pressing on towards the bridge 
of the Rhone, I wandered through paths 
and across fields undreamed of by our 
painters. The bridge,'^ the castle, and 
the sweep of the Rhone, are grouped, 
at this point, into a view of singular 
picturesqueness. As for the town,'^ its 
only remarkable feature is its simplicity. 
The site is somewhat melancholy, but 
of a sadness that I love. The moun- 
tains are beautiful, the valley level ; the 
rocks touch the town and seem to 



30 OBERMANN 

cover it ; the muffled rumbling of the 
Rhone gives a note of melancholy to 
this land, which lies separated, as it 
were, from the world, hollowed out 
and shut in on all sides. Peopled and 
cultivated, it yet seems at moments 
touched by the curse — or the beauty 
— of the austerity of the deserts, when 
black clouds overshadow its sweep 
down the mountain sides, darken the 
gloomy firs, throng together, are piled 
mass upon mass, and then, like a som- 
bre dome, hang motionless above ; or 
when, on a cloudless day, the sun's burn- 
ing rays concentrate upon it, make the 
unseen vapors seethe, cause all things 
that draw breath beneath the arid sky 
to throb with a tormenting heat, and 
turn this all too beautiful solitude into 
a grievous waste. . . . 

I allowed myself to be allured into 
staying near Saint-Maurice. ... I wan- 
dered at random through the neighbor- 
hood, and looked at the most attractive 



OBERMANN 31 

sites, in search of a chance dwelling. 
The water, the depth of the shade, the 
solitude of the moors, filled me with 
delight. ... I had followed the wind- 
ings of field and forest, had crossed 
swift streams, when I came upon a 
lonely house on the edge of the woods, 
standing among the most solitary clear- 
ings. A moderately good dwelling, a 
wooden barn, a vegetable garden bor- 
dered by a wide stream, two springs of 
pure water, a few rocks, the sound of 
the torrents, the land sloping on every 
side, hawthorn hedges, an abundant 
vegetation, a broad field stretching out 
beneath the scattered beeches and chest- 
nut-trees, even to the foot of the moun- 
tain-firs, — this is Charrieres. . . . 

I want to enjoy Charrieres before 
the winter. I want to be there for the 
chestnut harvest, and I am determined 
not to lose the quiet autumn in its 
midst. 

In twenty days I shall take posses- 



32 OBERMANN 

sion of the house, the chestnut grove, 
and apart of the meadows and orchards. 
To the farmer I leave the rest of the 
pastures and fruit, the vegetable garden, 
the hemp field, and especially the ara- 
ble ground. 

The stream winds through my part 
of the domain. I have the poorest land, 
but the deepest shades and the most 
secluded nooks. The moss prevents the 
harvesting of the hay ; the close-grow- 
ing chestnut-trees give little fruit; there 
is no view over the long stretch of the 
Rhone valley ; everything is wild and 
neglected ; there is even a narrow space 
between the rocks which has been left 
untouched, and where the trees, leveled 
by the wind and crumbling with age, 
hold the ooze, and form a kind of dike; 
alders and hazel-trees have taken root, 
and made of it an impenetrable maze. 
But the stream filters through this mass, 
and flows, sparkling with foam, into a 
natural pool wondrously limpid. From 



OBERMANN 33 

there it makes its way between the 
rocks; its hurried waves flow over the 
moss ; and far below, it slackens its 
course, leaves the shadows, and passes 
in front of the house, spanned by a 
bridge of fir planks. 

Wolves, driven down by the depth 
of the snows, come, it is said, in winter 
time, in search of bones and fragments 
of the food which even in pastoral val- 
leys is a necessity to man. The fear of 
these animals has long kept this dwell- 
ing uninhabited. But such a fear is 
not what would alarm me. Would that 
man might leave me free in this lair of 
the wolves ! 



Letter VI 

Saint-Maurice, August 26th, 1st year. 

DO you believe that a man who 
has fulfilled his time without 
having loved has truly entered into the 



34 OBERMANN 

mysteries of life, that his heart is known 
to him, and that the fullness of his ex- 
istence has been revealed to him ? To 
me it seems as though he had halted 
half way, and had seen only from afar 
what the world might have held for 
him. . . . 



Letter VII 

Saint-Maurice^ September jd^ 1st year, 

I HAVE been to the region of per- 
petual ice, on the Dent du Midi. 
Before the sun shone upon the valley 
I had already reached the bluff over- 
looking the town, and was crossing 
the partly cultivated stretch of ground 
which covers it. I went on by a steep 
ascent, through dense forests of fir- 
trees, leveled in many places by win- 
ters long since passed away : fruitful 
decay, vast and confused mass of a veg- 
etation that had died and had regermi- 



OBERMANN 35 

nated from the remains of its former 
life. At eight o'clock I had reached 
the bare summit which crowns the as- 
cent, and which forms the first salient 
step in that wondrous pile whose high- 
est peak still rose so far beyond me. 
Then I dismissed my guide, and put 
my own powers to the test. I wanted 
that no hireling should intrude upon 
this Alpine liberty, that no man of 
the plains should come to weaken the 
austerity of these savage regions. I felt 
my whole being broaden, as it was 
left alone among the obstacles and the 
dangers of a rugged nature, far from 
the artificial trammels and the ingen- 
ious oppression of men. 

I stood fixed and exultant as I 
watched the rapid disappearance of the 
only man whom I was likely to see 
among these mighty precipices. On 
the ground I left watch, money, every- 
thing that I had about me, and almost 
all my clothing, . . . and holding be- 



36 OBERMANN 

tween my teeth the branch I had cut 
to help me in the descent, I started to 
crawl along the ridge of rocks which 
connects this minor peak with the prin- 
cipal mass. Several times I dragged my- 
self between two bottomless chasms. 
And in this way I reached the granite 
peaks. 

My guide had told me that I could 
climb no higher, and for some time I 
was brought to a standstill. But at last, 
by descending a short distance, I found 
an easier way, and, climbing with the 
audacity of a mountaineer, I reached a 
hollow filled with frozen and crusted 
snow, which had lain unmelted by the 
summer suns. Still I mounted higher ; 
but on reaching the foot of the high- 
est peak of the Dent^ I found I could 
not climb to its summit, for its steep 
sides were scarcely out of the perpen- 
dicular, and it seemed to rise five hun- 
dred feet above me. 

I had crossed few fields of snow, yet 



OBERMANN 37 

my unprotected eyes, wearied by its 
brilliancy, and parched by the glare 
of the noon sun on its frozen surface, 
could see but vaguely the surrounding 
objects. Besides, many of the peaks 
were unknown to me, and I could be 
sure of only the most important ones. 
Yet I could not mistake the colossal 
summit of Mont Blanc, which rose far 
above me; that of Velan; one more 
distant, but still higher, which I took 
to be Mont Rosa; and, on the opposite 
side of the valley, near me but lower 
down, the Dent de Morcles, beyond the 
chasms. The peak that I could not 
climb, shut off what was perhaps the 
most striking part of this vast scene. 
For, behind it, stretched the long depths 
of the Valais, inclosed on each side by 
the glaciers of Sanetsch, of Lauterbrun- 
nen, and of the Pennine Alps, and end- 
ing in the domes of the Saint Gothard 
and the Titlis, the snows of the Furca, 
and the pyramids of the Schreckhorn 
and the Finster-Aar-Horn. 



38 OBERMANN 

But this view of the mountain-tops 
outspread at the feet of man, this view 
so grand, so majestic, so far removed 
from the monotonous vacuity of the 
plains, was still not the object of my 
quest in the midst of unfettered nature, 
of silent fixity, of unsullied ether. On 
the lowlands, natural man is of neces- 
sity undergoing continual change by 
breathing that social atmosphere, so 
dense, stormy, seething, forever trou- 
bled by the clamor of the arts, the din 
of ostensible pleasures, the cries of hate, 
and the endless laments of anxiety and 
of sorrow. But on those desert peaks, 
where the sky is measureless, and the 
air is more stable, and time less fleeting, 
and life more permanent, — there, all 
nature gives eloquent expression to a 
vaster order, a more visible harmony, 
an eternal whole. There, man is rein- 
stated in his changeful but indestructi- 
ble form ; he breathes a free air far from 
social emanations ; he exists only for 



OBERMANN 39 

himself and for the universe ; he lives 
a life of reality in the midst of sublime 
unity. 

This was the feeling that I desired, 
that I sought. Uncertain of myself, in 
an order of things which has been de- 
vised with unwearied pains by ingen- 
ious and childish minds, I scaled the 
heights to ask of nature why I should 
feel ill at ease in their midst. I wished 
to know whether my existence was out 
of place in the human economy, or 
whether the present social order is un- 
related to eternal harmony, like some 
irregularity or accidental exception in 
the progress of the world. At last I 
believe I am sure of myself. There are 
moments which dispel mistrust, pre- 
judice, uncertainties, — when the truth 
comes to us with an overruling and un- 
alterable conviction. . . . 

I cannot give you a true impression 
of this new world, or express the per- 
manence of the mountains in the Ian- 



40 OBERMANN 

guage of the plains. The hours seemed 
to me both more serene and more pro- 
ductive; and, even as though the plan- 
ets, amid the universal calm, had been 
arrested in their course, I was conscious 
that the gradual train of my thoughts, 
full of deliberation and of energy, could 
in no wise be hastened, yet was press- 
ing forward at unusual speed, . . . and 
I inferred that the consciousness of 
existence is really more inert and more 
sterile amid the tumult of human sur- 
roundings. I realized that thought, 
while less hurried, is more truly active 
among the mountains — on their peace- 
ful heights — even though visible move- 
ments are more gradual. The man of 
the valleys consumes without enjoyment 
the span of his restless and feverish 
days ; he is like unto those ever-moving 
insects which waste their efforts in futile 
vacillations, while others, equally weak, 
but more tranquil, by their straight and 
unflagging course, outstrip them in the 
race. 



OBERMANN 41 

The day was hot, the horizon veiled 
with haze, the valleys flooded with mist. 
The brilliancy of the fields of ice filled 
the lower atmosphere with its lumi- 
nous reflections; but an undreamed-of 
purity seemed to form the essence of 
the air I breathed. At that height, 
no exhalations from the lowlands, no 
effects of light and shade, either dis- 
turbed or interrupted the vague and 
sombre depth of the skies. Their seem- 
ing color was no longer that pale and 
luminous blue, the soft canopy of the 
plains, the charming and delicate blend 
which forms a visible inclosure to 
the inhabited earth, and is a rest and 
a goal to the eye. In those high re- 
gions, the invisible ether allowed the 
gaze to lose itself in boundless space ; 
in the midst of the splendor of the 
sun and of the glaciers, to seek other 
worlds and other suns, as under the 
vast sky of the night ; and above the 
burning atmosphere of the day, to pen- 
etrate a nocturnal universe. 



42 OBERMANN 

Stealthily the mist rose from the 
glaciers and was shaped into clouds 
at my feet. The snows had lost their 
dazzling brightness, and the sky grew 
deeper still and full of shadow. A fog 
covered the Alps ; here and there a sol- 
itary peak rose out of this ocean of 
mist ; held in their rugged clefts, lines 
of shimmering snow gave the gran- 
ite a blacker and a sterner look. The 
snow-white dome of Mont Blanc lifted 
its imperishable mass above this gray 
and moving sea, above these drifts of 
fog, which were furrowed by the wind 
and piled in towering waves. A black 
point appeared in this abyss; it rose 
rapidly, and came straight towards me; 
it was the mighty eagle of the Alps; 
his wings were wet, his eye fierce ; he 
was in search of prey, but at the sight 
of man he fled with a sinister cry and 
was lost as he plunged into the clouds. 
Twenty times the cry reechoed, but 
the sounds were short and sharp, like 



OBERMANN 43 

twenty separate cries in the univer- 
sal silence. Then absolute stillness fell 
upon all things, as though sound itself 
had ceased to exist, and the power of 
sound had been effaced from the uni- 
verse. Never has silence been known 
in the tumultuous valleys ; only on the 
icy summits does that stability, that 
solemn permanence reign, which no 
tongue can express, which the imagi- 
nation is powerless to attain. Except 
for the memories of the plains, man 
could not conceive of any movement 
in nature beyond himself; the course 
of the planets would be incomprehen- 
sible ; even to the changes of the mist, 
everything would seem to subsist in the 
very act of change. Each actual mo- 
ment having the appearance of conti- 
nuity,'5 man would have the certainty 
without ever having the sentiment of 
the succession of things ; and the per- 
petual mutations of the universe would 
be to his mind an impenetrable mystery. 



44 OBERMANN 

I wish that I could have kept surer 
records, not of my general impressions 
in that land of silence, for they will 
never be forgotten, but of the ideas to 
which they gave birth, and of which 
scarcely a memory has been left to me. 
In the midst of scenes so different, the 
imagination recalls with difficulty an 
order of thought which seems to be in 
disaccord with all the objects of its pre- 
sent surroundings. I should have had 
to write down what I felt ; but then 
my emotions would soon have fallen to 
the level of everyday experience. This 
solicitude to harvest one's thought for 
future use has in it an element of ser- 
vility which belongs to the painstaking 
efforts of a dependent life. 

Not in moments of ardor does one 
take heed of other times and other men ; 
in those hours one's thoughts are not 
born for the sake of artificial conven- 
tionalities, of fame, or even for the 
good of others. One is more natural. 



OBERMANN 45 

without even a desire to utilize the pre- 
sent moment : no thoughts that come 
at one's behest, no reflection, no spirit 
of intellectual investigation, no search 
for hidden things, no attempt to find 
the new and strange. Thought is not 
active and ordered, but passive and free: 
dreams, and complete abandonment ; 
depth without comprehension, great- 
ness without enthusiasm, energy with- 
out volition ; to muse, not to meditate, 
— this is one's attitude. Do not, then, 
be surprised if, after an experience in 
thought and emotion which will per- 
haps never be repeated during my life, 
I still have nothing to tell you. You 
remember those nature-lovers of the 
Dauphine, who expected so much from 
Jean-Jacques, and were so bitterly dis- 
appointed. They went with him to a 
vantage ground well suited to the kin- 
dling of a poetic genius ; they waited 
for a magnificent burst of eloquence ; 
but the author of 'Julie sat on the 



46 OBERMANN 

ground, dallied with some blades of 
grass, and said not a word. 

It may have been five o'clock when 
I noticed how the shadows began to 
lengthen, and how the cold crept over 
me, in the angle, open to the western 
sky, where I had long lain upon the 
granite rock. It was too treacherous to 
walk over those steep crags, and so I 
could not keep in motion. The mists 
had disappeared, and I saw that the 
evening was beautiful even in the val- 
leys. . . . 

Descending once more to inhabited 
earth, I felt that I again took up the 
long chain of anxieties and weariness. 
I returned at ten o'clock ; the moon 
shone upon my window. I heard the 
rushing of the Rhone ; there was no 
wind ; the city slept. I thought of the 
mountains I had left, of Charrieres 
which is to be my home, of the lib- 
erty which I have claimed as mine. 



OBERMANN 47 



Letter VIII 

Saint -Maurice^ September i^thy 1st year. 

I HAVE just returned from a trip 
of several days among the moun- 
tains. . . . Before retiring, I opened a 
letter; it was not in your handwriting ; 
the word haste, written in a conspic- 
uous way, filled me with uneasiness. 
Everything is open to suspicion when 
one has with difficulty escaped from 
former fetters. . . . 

I think you will readily suspect what 
it was. I was crushed, overwhelmed ; 
then I decided to neglect everything, 
to rise above everything, to forever 
abandon all things that would be a 
link to the life I had left behind. But 
after many uncertainties, whether rea- 
sonable or weak I know not, I thought 
it best to sacrifice the present, for the 
sake of future rest and security. I sub- 
mit, I leave Charrieres. 



48 OBERMANN 

This morning I could not endure 
the thought of so great a change. I 
went to Charrieres. ... I stood among 
the fields ; it was the last mowing. I 
lingered on a rock, to see only the 
sky ; it was veiled with haze. I looked 
at the chestnut-trees; the leaves were 
falling. Then I went to the river, as 
though I feared lest that also might be 
silent ; but it was still flowing. 

Inexplicable necessity of human af- 
fairs ! I am going to Lyons ; I shall go 
to Paris ; this is my decision. Farewell. 
Let us pity the man who finds but lit- 
tle, and from whom even that little is 
taken away. 



Letter IX 

Lyons y October 22d, ist year, 

1LEFT for Meterville two days 
after your departure from Lyons, 
and spent eighteen days there. . . . The 



OBERMANN 49 

grounds are not extensive, and the 
situation is more restful than striking. 
You know the owners, their character, 
their ways, their simple friendship, their 
winning manners. I arrived at a happy 
moment. On the following day the 
grapes were to be gathered from a long 
trellis, open to the south, and facing the 
woods of Armand. At supper-time it 
was decided that the grapes, which were 
to be made into choice wine, must be 
carefully picked with our own hands, 
so as to leave the unripe bunches on 
the vines to mature. 

On the next day, as soon as the 
morning mists had lifted, I put a win- 
nowing fan on a wheelbarrow, and was 
the first to go to the farther end of the 
vineyard and begin the harvesting. I 
worked almost alone, without trying to 
find a quicker method; I liked this 
deliberate way, and saw with regret 
that others came, now and then, to 
help; the harvesting lasted, I believe, for 



50 OBERMANN 

twelve days. My wheelbarrow came 
and went through unfrequented paths, 
overgrown with wet grass ; I chose the 
least level, the most uneven ones, and 
thus the days passed by in forgetfulness, 
in the heart of the mist, in the midst 
of the fruit, under an autumn sun. And 
when the evening came, we drank our 
tea, with milk warm from the cow, and 
smiled at the men who go in search of 
pleasures ; we walked beside the old 
yoke-elms, and we lay down content. 

I have seen the vanities of life, and 
in my heart I carry the glowing germ 
of the strongest passions. There, too, 
I bear the consciousness of great social 
issues, and of philosophic ideas. I have 
read Marcus Aurelius, and was not sur- 
prised ; I can conceive of the sterner 
virtues, and even of monastic heroism. 
All this can stir my soul, but cannot 
fill it. My wheelbarrow, which I load 
with fruit and push gently along, is a 
firmer support. The hours move peace- 



OBERMANN 51 

fully on, and this slow and useful mo- 
tion, this measured walk, seem better 
to represent the needs of our daily life. 



Letter XI 

Paris^ June 2'/th, 2d year, 

1 OFTEN spend a couple of hours 
at the library, not exactly to gain 
knowledge, for that desire has mate- 
rially cooled of late, but because, not 
knowing how to fill those hours which 
still flow irrevocably on, I find them 
less intolerable when employed outside 
than when consumed in the house. Oc- 
cupations that are somewhat regulated 
suit me in my discouragement ; too 
much liberty would leave me in indo- 
lence. I feel more at rest among peo- 
ple as silent as myself than when I am 
alone in the midst of a seething crowd. 
I love those long halls, some empty, 
others filled with studious men, the an- 



52 OBERMANN 

cient and cold repository of all human 
vanities and efforts. . . . 

The halls surround a long, quiet 
court, overgrown with grass, where 
two or three statues stand, a few ruins, 
and a basin of green water, which looks 
to be as old as the monuments. I rarely 
leave without lingering for a time in 
this silent inclosure. I love to dream as 
I walk upon these ancient pavements, 
cut from the quarries so that their hard 
and barren surface might be laid be- 
neath the feet of man. But time and 
neglect have, in a way, buried them 
anew under the ground, by covering 
them with a fresh layer of earth, and 
adding the green grass and the hues 
that were its portion of old. I find 
these pavements more eloquent, at 
times, than the books that have ab- 
sorbed me. 

Yesterday, when I was consulting 
the Encyclopedie, I opened the volume 
at a chance page, and do not even re- 



OBERMANN 53 

member now the title of the article ; 
but it spoke of a man, who, weary 
of tumult and affliction, plunged into 
complete solitude by following out one 
of those resolutions which conquer cir- 
cumstances and lead us to congratulate 
ourselves forever after on having had so 
much strength of will. The idea of 
this independent life did not recall to 
my imagination either the free soli- 
tudes of the Ismaiis, or the happy 
isles of the Pacific, or the nearer Alps 
already so deeply regretted. But a clear 
memory pictured vividly to my mind, 
with a sense of wonder and inspiration, 
the barren rocks and the woods of Fon- 
tainebleau. . . . 

You know that when I was still 
young, I lived for several years in Paris. 
My parents, in spite of their love for 
the city, spent, at different times, the 
month of September with friends in 
the country. One year it was at Fon- 
tainebleau, and twice again we stayed 



54 OBERMANN 

with these same friends, who, at that 
time, lived at the foot of the forest, 
towards the river. I was, I believe, 
fourteen, fifteen, and seventeen years 
of age, when I saw Fontainebleau. Af- 
ter a restricted, inactive, and tedious 
childhood, I felt as a man in some 
ways, but was still a child in many 
others. Awkward and timid, anticipat- 
ing all things, it may be, but knowing 
nothing, an alien amid my surroundings, 
my nature was characterized by restless- 
ness and discontent. The first time I 
went to the forest I was not alone ; I 
cannot clearly recall my impressions, 
and merely know that that spot was 
dearer to me than any other, and was 
the only one to which I longed to re- 
turn. 

The following year I wandered 
eagerly through these solitudes ; I pur- 
posely went astray, and was overjoyed 
when I had completely lost my way, 
and could not find any frequented path. 



OBERMANN 55 

When I came to the edge of the forest, 
I saw with regret the wide expanse of 
bare plains, and the distant steeples. 
Then I turned back and plunged into 
the densest part of the woods, and when 
I reached a clearing, shut in on all 
sides, where nothing could be seen but 
stretches of sand and of juniper-trees, 
there came to me a sense of peace, of 
liberty, of savage joy, the sway of nature 
first felt in careless youth. Yet I was 
not gay ; almost happy, I felt only the 
exuberance of well-being. But enjoy- 
ment grew wearisome, and a feeling of 
sadness crept over me as I turned my 
steps homeward. 

Often I was in the forest before the 
rising of the sun. I climbed the hills 
still deep in shadow ; I was all wet 
from the dew-covered underbrush ; and 
when the sun shone out I still longed 
for that mystic light, precursor of the 
dawn. I loved the deep gullies, the dark 
valleys, the dense woods ; I loved the 



56 OBERMANN 

hills covered with heather; I loved the 
fallen boulders and the rugged rocks/^ 
and, still better, I loved the moving 
sands, their barren wastes untrodden by 
the foot of man, but furrowed here and 
there by the restless tracks of the roe 
or the fleeing hare. When I saw a 
squirrel, when I startled a deer, I paused, 
I felt more content, and for a moment 
I ceased my wanderings. It was then 
that I noticed the birch, a lonely tree 
which even in those days filled me with 
sadness, and which, since that time, I 
have never seen without a sense of 
pleasure. I love the birch; I love that 
smooth, white, curling bark ; that wild 
trunk ; those drooping branches ; the 
flutter of the leaves, and all that aban- 
donment, simplicity of nature, attitude 
of the desert. 

Wasted hours, never to be forgotten ! 
Vain illusions of a responsive and im- 
pressionable nature ! How great is man 
in his inexperience ; how productive 



OBERMANN 57 

would he be, if the cold glance of his 
fellow, the sterile breath of injustice, 
came not to wither his heart ! I had 
need of happiness. I was born to suf- 
fer. You know those sombre days, fore- 
runners of the frost, when even the 
dawn, as it gathers the mist, heralds 
the light by touching the cloud-mass 
with a sinister glow of fiery color. 
That gloomy veil, those sudden gales, 
those pale gleams, that whistling of the 
wind through the trees as they bend 
and tremble, those endless wails like fu- 
neral lamentations, — such is the morn- 
ing of life ; at noon, colder and more 
enduring gales ; at eventide, denser 
gloom, and the day of man is finished. 
That specious and perpetual illusion, 
which is born with the heart of man, 
and would seem to have a life as en- 
during as his own, was rekindled in 
me one day ; I went so far as to think 
that my longings would be fulfilled. 
But this sudden and all too impetuous 



58 OBERMANN 

fire burned itself out in empty space, 
and was quenched ere it had shed 
abroad one ray of light. Even as in the 
season of storms a sudden lightning- 
streak will gleam in the cloud - dark 
night, to alarm all living creatures. 

It was in March ; I was at Lu — . 
There were violets at the foot of the 
thickets, and lilacs in a little meadow, 
springlike and peaceful, open to the 
southern sun. The house stood high 
above. A terraced garden hid the win- 
dows from sight. Below the meadow, 
steep and rugged rocks formed wall 
upon wall ; at the foot, a wide torrent, 
and beyond, other ledges covered with 
fields, with hedges, and with firs ! 
Across all this stretched the ancient 
walls of the city ; an owl had made his 
home among the ruined towers. In 
the evening, the moon shone, distant 
horns gave answering calls ; and the 
voice that I shall never hear again ! . . . 
All this deceived me. My life has, be- 



OBERMANN 59 

fore now, held but this solitary mistake. 
Why then this memory of Fontaine- 
bleau, and not that of Lu — ? 



Letter XII 

July 28 thy 2d year. 

AT last I feel as though I were in 
the desert. Here, there are wide 
tracts of land without a trace of man. 
I have escaped, for a season, from those 
restless cares which consume our years, 
mingle our life with the darkness that 
goes before, and the darkness that fol- 
lows after, and grant it no larger boon 
than to be a less tranquil void. . . . 

Can you understand the joy I feel 
when my foot sinks into the moving 
and burning sands, when I walk with 
difficulty, and there is no water, no 
freshness, no shade ? I see a mute and 
barren stretch of land ; bare, decayed, 
and shattered rocks ; and the forces 



6o OBERMANN 

of nature laid under subjection to the 
forces of time. Is it not like unto a 
sense of peace that falls upon me, 
when I find, in the outer world, beneath 
a burning sky, obstacles and excesses 
other than those of my own heart ? 

I do not care to know where I am ; 
on the contrary, I go astray whenever 
I can. Often I walk in a straight line, 
without following any path. I strive 
not to keep any trace of my way, and 
not to grow too familiar with the for- 
est, so as always to have something 
new to find. There is one path that I 
love to follow ; it winds in a circle, 
keeping to the line of the forest, and 
leads neither to the plains nor to the 
city ; It goes by no wonted course ; it 
is neither in the valleys nor on the 
heights ; it seems to have no end ; it 
passes through everything, it reaches 
nothing ; I think I shall tread this path 
all my life. . . . 

In former days, when I wandered 



OBERMANN 6i 

through these woods, I saw, in a dense 
thicket, two roes fleeing from a wolf, 
who was close upon them. I felt sure 
he would capture them, and followed, 
to be in at the struggle, and to help 
them if I could. They sprang from 
the cover of the woods into a clear- 
ing filled with rocks and heather ; but 
when I reached the spot they were out 
of sight. Then I scrambled down into 
the very depths of the rough and hol- 
low moor, from which large quantities 
of sandstone had been quarried for the 
street pavements ; but I found nothing. 
On my way back to the forest by a dif- 
ferent path, I came upon a dog, who 
stood gazing at me in silence until I 
started to move on. Then he barked, 
and I saw that I had almost stepped 
upon the threshold of the dwelling 
over which he was watching. It was 
a sort of cave, inclosed partly by a nat- 
ural wall of rock, and partly by piles of 
stones, branches of juniper, and heaps 



62 OBERMANN 

of heather and moss. A workman, who 
for more than thirty years had cut stone 
in the neighboring quarries, having 
neither family nor goods, had retired 
to this spot so as to be released from 
forced labor in his last days, and to 
escape the workhouse and contempt. 
Near his rock-dwelling, in a barren 
piece of ground, was a garden plot; 
and together they lived, he, his dog, and 
his cat, on bread, water, and liberty. '^ 
" I have worked much, and have had 
nothing," he said to me ; " but at last 
I am at rest, and soon I shall die." It 
was the story of humanity, told me by 
this uncouth man. . . . 

You may now understand the power 
of the memory that came to me so 
unexpectedly at the library. This sud- 
den thought opened up to me the full 
consciousness of a real life, a wise sim- 
plicity, the freedom of man amid a 
nature of which he is the master. 

Not that I consider as such the life 



OBERMANN 63 

that I lead here, nor think that in the 
midst of my rocks, surrounded by the 
wretched plains, I am the man of na- 
ture. . . . But, since I am condemned 
ever to wait for life, I strive to vege- 
tate alone and in solitude. . . . 

May I once again, beneath the au- 
tumn sky, in the last of the beautiful 
days that are filled with the mystery of 
the mist, seated by the side of the stream 
that carries the yellowed leaf upon its 
current, — may I listen to the deep and 
simple notes of an artless melody. May 
I one day, as I climb the Grimsel or the 
Titlis, alone with the man of the moun- 
tains, listen, while lying near the snows 
upon the close-cut grass, to the famil- 
iar and romantic sounds of the cows of 
Unterwalden and of Hasli ; and once 
before I die, may I there say to a man 
who can understand me : Had we but 
lived ! 



64 OBERMANN 



Letter XI 1 1 

Fontainehleau^ July 31 sty 2d year, 

WHEN an irresistible feeling 
carries us far beyond the 
things that are ours, and fills us first 
with rapture, then with regret, giving us 
a vision of blessings which are beyond 
our reach, this deep and fleeting sense 
is but the inner proof of the superiority 
of our faculties over our destiny. And 
for this very reason it lingers but for a 
while, and is soon changed to regret ; 
it is enchanting, then heartrending. 
Dejection follows every immoderate 
impulse. We suffer for not being what 
we might be ; but were we to find our- 
selves in that order of things for which 
we long, we should no longer have 
either that excess of desire or that 
redundance of faculties ; we should no 
longer enjoy the delight of being above 



OBERMANN 65 

our destiny, greater than our environ- 
ment, more productive than we have 
need to be. Were we to be in posses- 
sion of those -delights which our im- 
agination had so ardently pictured, we 
should be found cold, often dreamy, 
indifferent, even wearied ; because we 
cannot produce beyond our possibil- 
ities ; because we should then feel the 
irresistible limits of our human nature, 
and, in employing our faculties on the 
things of actual life, they would no 
longer be at our service to bear us be- 
yond, into the imaginary region of the 
ideal brought into subjection to the 
sovereignty of actual man. 

But why should these things be 
purely ideal ? This is what I cannot 
understand. Why does the non-existent 
seem more in accord with man's nature 
than what exists ? Actual life is also 
like a dream ; it has no whole, no 
continuity, no end ; it has elements 
that are positive and settled ; it has 



66 OBERMANN 

others that are nought but chance and 
dissonance, that pass like shadows, and 
hold nothing but deceptive illusions. 
Thus, in sleep, we think of things true 
and connected, and of things strange, 
disconnected, and chimeric, all united 
by some indefinable link. The same 
medley forms the dreams of the night 
and the sentiments of the day. It has 
been said, by the wisdom of the an- 
cients, that the moment of awakening 
will come at last. 



Letter XIV 

FontainehleaUy August yth^ 2d year, 

MR. W , whom you know, 
said recently: "When I take 
my cup of coffee, I arrange the world 
to my liking." I, too, indulge in this 
kind of dream ; and when my path lies 
through the heather, between the dew- 
covered junipers, I find myself pictur- 



OBERMANN 67 

ing the lot of happy men. I fully be- 
lieve that men might be happy. It is 
not my wish to create another species, 
or a new earth ; it is not my desire to 
make a widespread reform. That kind 
of hypothesis leads to nothing, you de- 
clare, because it is not based on actual 
life. Then let us take what necessarily 
exists; let us take it as it is, arranging 
merely those things that are accidental. 
I have no longing for new or visionary 
species ; my materials lie within my 
reach, and with them I form my plan 
after my own ideal. 

I want two things : a settled climate, 
and sincere men. If I know when 
the rain will overflow the rivers, when 
the sun will scorch my plants, when the 
hurricane will shake my cottage, it is 
the part of my industry to battle with 
the forces of nature that are arrayed 
against my needs. But when I am 
ignorant of the coming event, when 
misfortune crushes me while I am still 



68 OBERMANN 

unwarned of danger, when prudence 
may be my ruin, and the interests of 
others confided to my care forbid un- 
concern and even a sense of security, is 
not my life, of necessity, both restless 
and sorrowful ? Is it not inevitable that 
inaction follows in the train of forced 
labor, and that I should consume my 
days, as Voltaire has so well said, in the 
convulsions of unrest or in the lethargy 
of weariness ? 

If almost all men are deceitful, if 
the duplicity of some forces others at 
least into the refuge of reserve, does 
it not follow that to the inevitable 
wrongs against their fellows, commit- 
ted by some men in their own interests, 
is added a far larger share of useless 
wrongs ? Does it not follow that men 
injure one another without intent, that 
each one is watchful and guarded, that 
enemies are inventive, and friends are 
prudent? Is it not inevitable that an 
honest man should fall in public esti- 



OBERMANN 69 

mation by an indiscreet remark or a 
false judgment; that an enmity born of 
a baseless suspicion should grow to be 
mortal; that those who would have 
wished to do well are discouraged ; that 
false principles are established ; that 
craftiness is of more use than wisdom, 
valor, or magnanimity ; that children 
reproach their father for not having 
been a trickster, and that states perish 
for not having committed a crime ? In 
this state of endless uncertainty, I ask 
what becomes of morality ; and in the 
uncertainty of things, what becomes of 
security ; and without security, with- 
out morality, I ask if happiness is not 
a child's dream ? . . . 

A settled climate, and men sincere, 
unmistakably sincere, is all I require. 
I am happy if I am sure of things. I 
leave to the heavens its storms and its 
thunderbolts ; to the earth, its mire 
and its dryness ; to the soil, its steril- 
ity; to our bodies, their weakness, their 



70 OBERMANN 

degeneration; to men, their differences 
and incompatibilities, their faithless- 
ness, their errors, their vices even, 
and their necessary egoism ; to time, its 
slowness and irrevocableness. The city 
of my dreams is happy, if life is or- 
dered, and thought undisguised. The 
only added element it requires is a 
good government ; and this cannot fail 
her, if thought is unconcealed. 



Letter XV 

Fontainebleau, August gthy 2d year, 

THE day was at its close ; there 
was no moon ; there was no stir; 
the sky was calm, the trees motionless. 
A few insects under the grass, a solitary 
bird singing, far away, in the warmth 
of the evening. I lingered long, at rest 
upon the ground ; my mind seemed filled 
with indistinct ideas. My thoughts 
wandered over the earth and the 



OBERMANN 71 

centuries ; I shuddered at the work of 
man. I came back to myself, and saw 
myself in this chaos; I saw my life 
lost in its depths ; I foresaw the future 
ages of the world. Rocks of the Righi ! 
had your chasms been there ! 

Already the night was gloomy. 
Slowly I left the spot ; I wandered at 
random, I was filled with weariness. I 
had need of tears, but could only groan. 
The early days have passed away ; I feel 
the torments of youth, but no longer 
have its consolations. My heart, still 
wasted by the fire of an immature and 
profitless age, is withered and parched 
as though it had reached the exhaustion 
of the age that has outlived passion. 
My life is dead, but I am not calm. 
Some men enjoy their sufferings, but 
for me all things have passed away ; I 
have neither joy, nor hope, nor rest ; 
nothing is left to me, not even tears. 



72 OBERMANN 



Letter XVI 

Fontainebleau, August 12 thy 2d year. 

WHAT noble sentiments ! What 
memories ! What quiet ma- 
jesty in a night soft, calm, luminous ! 
What grandeur ! But the soul is over- 
whelmed with doubt. It sees that the 
feelings aroused by sentient things lead 
it into error ; that truth exists, but in 
the far distance. Nature seems incom- 
prehensible at sight of those mighty 
planets in the changeless sky. 

Such permanence is bewildering ; it 
is to man a fearful eternity. All things 
pass away ; man passes away, but the 
worlds do not pass ! Thought is lost 
in a gulf between the changes of the 
earth and the immutability of the 
heavens. 



OBERMANN 73 



Letter XVII 

Fontainebleau^ August i^thy 2d year. 

I GO to the woods before the com- 
ing of the sun ; I see it rise in a 
cloudless sky ; I walk in the dew-cov- 
ered brakes, in the midst of the bram- 
bles, among the hinds, under the 
birches of Mont Chauvet. A sense of 
the happiness that might have been 
takes full possession of me, drives me 
onward, and overpowers me. I climb, 
I descend, I press on like a man longing 
for joy ; then a sigh, discontent, and a 
whole day of wretchedness. 



74 OBERMANN 



E 



Letter XVIII 

FontainebleaUy August 17 thy 2d year, 

VEN here I love only the even- 
ing. The dawn delights me for 
a moment ; it seems as though I should 
feel its beauty, but the day which is to 
follow in its train must be so long ! . . . 
Here, nothing crushes me, nothing 
satisfies me. I even believe that my 
weariness is on the increase ; it is be- 
cause I do not suffer enough. Am I, 
then, happier ? Ah, no ; suflfering and 
unhappiness are not the same ; neither 
are enjoyment and happiness. 

My lot is easy, but my life is sad. I 
am in the best of surroundings : free, 
tranquil, well, without cares, indiffer- 
ent towards the future, from which I 
expect nothing, and drifting away 
without regret from the past, which 
has brought me no joy. But I am filled 



OBERMANN 75 

with an unrest that will never leave 
me ; it is a craving I do not compre- 
hend, which overrules me, absorbs me, 
lifts me above the things that perish. 
. . . You are mistaken, and I too was 
once mistaken ; it is not the desire for 
love. A great distance lies between the 
void that fills my heart and the love 
that I have so deeply desired ; but the 
infinite stretches between what I am 
and what I crave to be. Love is vast, 
but it is not the infinite. I do not desire 
enjoyment ; I long for hope, I crave 
knowledge ! I need endless illusions, 
which shall ever lure me onwards, and 
ever deceive me. What do I care for 
things that will cease to be ? The hour 
that will come in sixty years is near 
me now. I have no liking for what 
is prearranged, for what approaches, 
arrives, and is then no more. I desire 
a good, a dream, a hope, that shall be 
ever before me, beyond me, greater 
even than my expectation, greater than 



76 OBERMANN 

what passes away. I should like to be 
pure intelligence, and I wish that the 
eternal order of the world. . . . And 
thirty years ago the order was, and I 
was not! 



Letter XIX 

FontainebleaUy August i8thy 2d year, 

THERE are moments when I am 
filled with hope and a sense of 
liberty ; time and things pass before 
me with majestic harmony, and I feel 
happy, as though happiness were pos- 
sible to me. I have surprised myself re- 
turning to my early years ; once more 
I have found in the rose the beauty 
of delight, and its celestial eloquence. 
Happy ! I ? And yet I am, and happy 
to overflowing, like one who reawak- 
ens from the terrors of a dream to a 
life of peace and liberty ; like one who 
emerges from the filth of a dungeon. 



OBERMANN yj 

and, after ten years, looks once again 
upon the serenity of the sky; happy 
like the man who loves the woman he 
has saved from death ! But the mo- 
ment passes ; a cloud drifts across the 
sun and shuts out its inspiring light ; 
the birds are hushed ; the growing dark- 
ness drives away both my dream and 
my joy. ... 



Letter XX 

FontainebleaUy August 2ythy 2d year, 

HOW few are the needs of the 
individual who desires only to 
exist, and how many are those of the 
man who wishes to live happily and 
usefully. If a man were strong enough 
to renounce joy, and realize that it is 
beyond his reach, he would be far hap- 
pier ; but must one live forever alone ? 
Peace itself is a sad blessing when there 
is no hope of sharing it. 



78 OBERMANN 

I know that there are many who care 
for nothing more lasting than the good 
of the moment ; and that others know 
how to limit themselves to a manner of 
life without order and devoid of taste. 
. . . Such a life is called a simple life. 
I call it an unfortunate life, if it is 
temporary ; a life of misery, if it is ne- 
cessary and enduring ; but if it is vol- 
untary, if it is not distasteful, if it is 
the accepted life of the future, then I 
call it a life worthy of ridicule. 

Contempt of riches is a beautiful 
sentiment when expressed in books ; 
but one who has a family and no money 
must be either callous, or endowed 
with resolute strength; and I question 
whether a man of high character would 
submit to such a life. One endures 
whatever is accidental ; but to forever 
bow one's will before misery is to adopt 
misery. Are such stoics wanting, per- 
haps, in that sense of propriety which 
teaches man that a life of this kind 



OBERMANN 79 

is unworthy of his nature ? Their sim- 
plicity, without order, without deHcacy, 
without shame, approaches nearer, it 
seems to me, to the gross penitence of 
a fakir than to the strength and indif- 
ference of a philosopher. 

There is a propriety, a care, a har- 
mony, a completeness, even in simpli- 
city. . . . 



Letter XXI 

FontainebleaUy September ist, 2d year, 

THE days are beautiful, and I am 
filled with profound peace. In 
times past, I should have enjoyed with 
keener zest this full liberty, this relin- 
quishment of all business, of all pro- 
jects, this complete indifference to 
events. 

I begin to feel that I am advancing 
in life. Those exquisite impressions, 
those sudden emotions which stirred 



8o OBERMANN 

me once so deeply, and carried me so 
far beyond this world of sadness, are 
now all changed and weakened. That 
longing, awakened in me by the feel- 
ing for every beauty which exists in the 
natural world, that hope so uncertain 
and so full of charm, that celestial fire 
which dazzles and consumes the heart 
of youth, that all-embracing rapture 
which sheds a light over the vast illu- 
sion — all these have passed away. 

You who know the limitless cravings 
of my nature tell me what I shall do 
with my life, when I shall have lost 
those moments of illusion which shone 
in the darkness, like tempest-gleams on 
a stormy night ! They made life more 
sombre, it is true ; but they were an 
earnest that it might change, and that 
the light still burned. . . . 

I was far different in those days 
when it was possible for me to love. 
I had been romantic in my childhood, 
and even then pictured a retreat to my 



OBERMANN 8i 

taste. . . . The word Chartreuse had 
impressed me, and there, near Greno- 
ble, I built the house of my dreams. I 
then believed that pleasant places went 
far to make a happy life ; and there, 
with the woman I loved, I felt that the 
changeless joy, for which my baffled 
heart had ardently longed, might at 
last be mine. . . . 

The farther I look back into my 
youth, the deeper are the impressions 
I find. If I pass beyond the age when 
ideas begin to have some breadth ; if I 
seek in my childhood for the earliest 
fancies of a melancholy heart, which 
never had a true childhood, and was 
intent upon strong emotions and un- 
usual things at a time when a love or 
a distaste for play was scarcely devel- 
oped — if I look back to my experi- 
ences at seven years, at six years, at 
five years, I find impressions as endur- 
ing, more confiding, sweeter than than 
those of later days, and shaped by those 



82 OBERMANN 

complete illusions which have been 
the happiness of no other age. . . . 

September 2d. 

. . . Prettiness amuses the mind, 
beauty sustains the soul, sublimity 
astounds or exalts it ; but the beauties 
that captivate and impassion the heart 
are broader and more undefined, rare, 
beyond comprehension, mysterious, and 
ineffable. 

Thus, love makes all things beauti- 
ful to hearts capable of loving, and 
adds a sense of exquisiteness to their 
feeling for everything in nature. Cre- 
ating as it does in us the noblest of 
all possible relationships outside of 
ourselves, it opens to us the conscious- 
ness of every relationship, of all har- 
monies ; it unveils a new world to our 
affections. Swept along by this swift 
current, fascinated by this power which 
holds immeasurable promise, and of 
which nothing has as yet disillusioned 



OBERMANN 83 

us, we seek, we feel, we love, we desire 
all that nature holds in fee for man. . . . 



L ETTER XX II 

FontainebleaUy October 12th, 2d year, 

1 LONGED to see once more all the 
places through which I loved to 
wander in the past. Before the nights 
grow cold, before the trees lose their 
leaves, before the birds take wing, I 
am exploring the most distant parts of 
the forest. 

Yesterday I was on my way before 
the break of day ; the moon still shone, 
and the dawn had not yet dispelled the 
shadows. The valley of Changis still 
lay in the shades of night ; but I had 
already gained the heights of Avon.'^ 
I descended to the Basses-Loges, and 
reached Valvin as the sun, rising be- 
hind Samoreau, colored the rocks of 
Samois.^9 



84 OBERMANN 

Valvin is not a village, and has no 
cultivated land. The inn stands soli- 
tary, at the foot of a hill, on a small, 
level strand, between the river and the 
woods. Valvin or Thomery ^° may be 
reached by water, in the evening, when 
the shores are sombre, and we hear the 
belling of the stags in the forest ; or 
else, at the rising of the sun, when the 
earth is still at rest, when the boatman's 
cry startles the roes, and echoes under 
the high poplars and through the heath- 
covered hills all steaming in the early 
break of day. . . . 

Then I turned to the west, in search 
of the spring of Mont Chauvet . . . 
and descended into the quiet valley 
where its waters are lost without form- 
ing a stream. In turning aside, to- 
wards the cross of the Grand- Veneur,^' 
I came upon a solitude as austere as the 
wilderness that I am seeking. I passed 
behind the rocks of Cuvier ; I was filled 
with sadness; I lingered long among 



OBERMANN 85 

the gorges of Apremont." Towards 
evening I reached the solitudes of the 
Grand-Franchard/3 an ancient monas- 
tery standing alone among the hills 
and the sands ; . . . the moon shone 
faintly as if to add to the solitude of 
this deserted monument. Not a sound, 
not a bird, not a movement stirred the 
silence of the night. But, when all 
that oppresses us is at rest, when all 
things sleep and leave us to repose, 
then phantoms hold watch in our own 
hearts. 

The next day I turned to the south, 
and, as I wandered among the hills, 
I watched with delight the gathering 
of a storm. I found an easy shelter in 
the hollows of the overhanging cliffs. 
From the depths of my retreat, I loved 
to see the junipers and the birches 
wrestling with the strength of the 
winds, while their roots were crowded 
within a small and arid space ; I loved 
to see them hold their poor and inde- 



86 OBERMANN 

pendent life, while their only support 
was the face of the rocks, in the clefts 
of which they stood balanced, and their 
only nourishment a handful of moist 
earth, caught in the crevices into which 
their roots had crept. 

When the rain had lessened, I 
plunged into the wet woods, which 
were clothed with fresh beauty. I 
followed the edge of the forest near 
Recloses,^'^ la Vignette, and Bourron. 
Towards evening, I turned my steps 
homeward with regret, and felt well 
pleased with my walk, if anything can 
give me a sense of pleasure or of re- 
gret. 

I care no longer for desires ; they do 
not deceive me. Not that I wish them 
to die, for such absolute silence would 
seem more sinister still. But they are 
like the vain beauty of the rose which 
blooms before eyes that have closed : 
they hold up before me what I can 
never possess, what I can scarcely see. 



OBERMANN 87 

If hope seems still to throw a ray of 
light into the night which envelops 
me, it heralds nought but the bitterness 
that is her last bequest before she dies ; 
it illumines only the depths of the void 
where I sought, and found nothing. 

Soft climates, beautiful places, the 
sky of the night, significant sounds, 
early memories ; times, opportunities ; 
nature, beautiful and expressive; sub- 
lime affections — all have passed before 
me, all allure me, and all abandon me. 
I am alone ; the strength of my heart 
is not given out, it reacts on itself, it 
waits. I am here in the world, a wan- 
derer, solitary in the midst of a people 
for whom I care nothing ; like a man, 
deaf for many years, whose eager eyes 
gaze upon the crowd of silent beings 
who move and pass before him. He 
sees everything, but everything is with- 
held from him ; he divines the sounds 
that he loves, he seeks them, and hears 
them not ; he suffers the silence of all 



*m 



88 OBERMANN 

things in the midst of the noise of the 
world. Everything passes before him, 
but he can grasp nothing ; universal 
harmony reigns in external creation, it 
is in his imagination, but is not in his 
heart ; he is apart from the entirety of 
beings, no bond unites him to them ; 
in vain do all things exist around him, 
he lives alone, he is isolated in the 
midst of the living world. 



Letter XXIII 

FontainehleaUy October i8thy 2d year. 

WILL it also be given unto man 
to know the long peace of au- 
tumn, after the unrest of the strength 
of his years, even as the fire, after its 
haste to be consumed, lingers before it 
is quenched ? 

Long before the equinox, the leaves 
had fallen in quantities, yet the forest 
still holds much of its verdure and all 



OBERMANN 89 

of its beauty. More than forty days ago 
everything looked as though it would 
end before its time, and now all things 
are enduring beyond their allotted days; 
receiving, at the very door of destruc- 
tion, a lengthened life, which lingers 
on the threshold of its decay with 
abundant grace or security, and seems 
to borrow, as it weakens with gentle 
loitering, both from the repose of ap- 
proaching death and from the charm 
of departing life. 



Letter XXIV 

FontainebleaUy October 28 thy 2d year, 

THE frosts depart, and I give no 
heed ; spring dies, and I am not 
moved ; summer passes, and I feel no 
regret. But I take delight in walking 
over the fallen leaves, on the last of the 
beautiful days, in the unclothed forest. 
Whence come to man the most last- 



•* 



90 OBERMANN 

ing of the delights of his heart, that 
rapture of sadness, that charm full of 
secrets, which make him live on his 
sorrows and be still content with him- 
self in the midst of the sense of his 
ruin ? I cling to the happy season that 
will soon have passed away ; a belated 
interest, a contradictory delight, draws 
me to her as she is about to die. The 
same moral law which makes the idea 
of destruction painful to me, makes me 
also love the sentiment of it in the 
things of this world that must pass away 
before me. It is natural that we should 
more fully enjoy the life which perishes, 
when, conscious of its frailty, we feel 
that it still lives on within us. When 
death separates us from things, they 
subsist without us. But when the leaves 
fall, vegetation is at an end, and dies ; 
while we live on for new generations. 
Autumn is full of delight, because, for 
us, spring is yet to come. 

Spring is more beautiful in nature ; 



OBERMANN 91 

but man, by his works, has made au- 
tumn sweeter. The awakening green, 
the singing bird, the opening flower, 
and that fire which returns to give 
strength to life, and the shadows which 
shield those hidden retreats, and that 
luxuriant grass, that wild fruit, those 
soft nights which invite to liberty ! Sea- 
son of joy ! You fill me with dread in 
my burning unrest. I find deeper re- 
pose towards the eve of the year ; the 
season when all things seem to die is 
the only time when I sleep in peace on 
the earth of man. 



Letter XXV 

Fontainebleau^ November 6th, 2d year. 

I LEAVE my woods; I had intended 
to stay here through the winter, but 
if I want to free myself from the busi- 
ness which brought me within reach of 
Paris, I must neglect it no longer. .^. . 



92 OBERMANN 

So I shall leave the forest, its life, its 
dreamy ways, and the peaceful though 
imperfect image of a free land. 



Letter XXX 

Paris, March /M, jd year, 

IT was gloomy and cold ; I was 
heavy-hearted ; I walked because 
I could do nothing else. I passed near 
some flowers, which grew on a wall at 
arm's height. A daffodil was in bloom, 
the most perfect expression of longing, 
the first fragrance of the year. I was 
filled with a sense of all the joy to 
which man is heir. That ineffable 
harmony of beings, the image of the 
ideal world, took possession of me ; 
never before had I experienced an 
emotion so instantaneous, and so full 
of grandeur. 

I know not what form, what ana- 
logy, what secret affinity led me to see 



OBERMANN 93 

in this flower a measureless beauty, the 
expression, the elegance, the attitude of 
a happy and simple woman in all the 
grace and splendor of awakening love. 
I shall not strive to render that power, 
that immensity which nothing can ex- 
press; that form which nothing can 
contain ; that idea of a better world 
which we feel, but which nature can- 
not have given us ; that celestial ray 
which we think to grasp, which im- 
passions us, leads us on, and is nought 
but an invisible, wandering spirit, stray- 
ing in the dark abyss. 

But this spirit, this image, touched 
with a mysterious beauty, mighty with 
the magic power of the unknown, 
which has become needful to us in the 
midst of our miseries, and has grown 
natural to our overburdened hearts, — 
where is the man who can see it even 
for a moment, dimly, and ever forget 
the vision ? 

When the opposition, the inertia of 



94 OBERMANN 

a power dead, brutal, unclean, fetters 
us, envelops us, imprisons us, holds us 
plunged in uncertainties, loathing, puer- 
ilities, imbecile or cruel follies ; when 
we know nothing, possess nothing ; 
when all things pass before us like the 
whimsical figures of an odious and ab- 
surd dream, — what can repress in our 
hearts the longing for a different order 
of things, for another nature ? 



Letter XXXII 

Paris, April 2gthy ^^ year, 

A SHORT while ago, at the Bihlio- 
theque, I heard some one near me 
address by name the famous L. . . . 
At another time I happened to be sit- 
ting at the same table with him ; . . . 
he gave me some idyls, written by an 
obscure Greek author, which he had 
found in an old Latin manuscript. 



OBERMANN 95 



Letter XXXIII 

Paris, May yth, jd year, 

THE author to whom I referred 
in my last letter said to me yes- 
terday, " If I mistake not, my idyls 
do not interest you greatly. Possibly 
you would prefer a moral or philoso- 
phic fragment, attributed to Aristippus, 
spoken of by Varro, and afterwards sup- 
posed to have been lost. But, as it was 
translated in the fifteenth century into 
contemporary French, it must have been 
still in existence at that time. I found 
it in manuscript, at the end of an un- 
used and imperfect copy of Plutarch, 
published by Amyot." 

I acknowledged that, not being a 
scholar, I had the misfortune to pre- 
fer things to words, and was far more 
deeply interested in the sentiments of 
Aristippus than in an eclogue, were it 
written by Bion or Theocritus. 



96 OBERMANN 

But, in my opinion, there was not 
sufficient evidence to prove that Aris- 
tippus ^5 was the author of this short 
fragment, and we owe it to his mem- 
ory not to attribute to him what he 
would perhaps have disclaimed. If he 
did write it, then the famous Greek, 
who was as misjudged as Epicurus, and 
was supposed to have been effeminately 
voluptuous, or of a too pliant phi- 
losophy, really possessed that severity 
which is exacted by prudence and or- 
der, the only severity which becomes 
a man born for enjoyment, and a way- 
farer upon the earth. 

MANUAL OF PSEUSOPHANES 

" Thou hast awakened gloomy, 
downcast, already weary of the hours 
that have just begun. Thou hast raised 
upon life the glance of disgust ; thou 
hast found her vain, dull ; after a while 
thou shalt feel her to be more endur- 
able. Will she then have changed } 



OBERMANN 97 

" She has no definite shape. All the 
experience of man is in his heart ; all 
his knowledge is in his thought. His 
whole life is within himself. 

"What ruin can crush thee thus? 
What canst thou lose ? Does there 
exist outside of thee anything that is 
thine ? Of what account is that which 
perisheth ? All things pass, excepting 
justice, which is hidden beneath the 
veil of mutable things. For man all is 
vain, unless he walks with an even and 
tranquil step, obedient to the laws of 
the intelligence. 

" Everything is in a ferment around 
thee, everything holds a menace; if 
thou givest thyself up to alarms, thy 
anxieties will be endless. Thou shalt 
not possess what cannot be possessed, 
and thou shalt lose thy life which 
belonged to thee. The things that 
happen pass away forever. They are 
necessary accidents, generated in an 
endless circle ; they vanish even as an 
unexpected and fleeting shadow. 



98 OBERMANN 

" What are thy ills ? Fanciful fears, 
hypothetical needs, passing vexations. 
Impotent slave ! Thou cleavest to what 
does not exist ; thou art the servant of 
shadows. Leave to the deluded mul- 
titude whatsoever is illusive, vain, and 
mortal. Give heed only to intelligence, 
which is the principle of the order of 
the world, and to man who is its in- 
strument ; intelligence which we ought 
to follow, man whom we ought to aid. 

"Intelligence struggles against the 
opposition of matter, against those blind 
laws whose invisible results have been 
called chance. When the power that 
has been given thee has become the 
handmaid of intelligence, when thou 
hast added thy share to the order of the 
world, what more canst thou desire ? 
Thou hast lived in accordance with thy 
nature ; and what is better for the be- 
ing who is endowed with feeling and 
knowledge than to exist in conformity 
with his own nature ? 



OBERMANN 99 

" Each day, as thou art born to a new 
life, remember that thou hast resolved 
not to walk in vain upon the earth. 
The world advances to its end. But 
thou dost linger, thou dost retrograde, 
thou dost remain in a state of suspense 
and languor. Thy days that have passed, 
will they ever return at a better time ? 
The whole of life is gathered into the 
present,^^ which thou dost neglect in 
order to sacrifice it to the future ; the 
present is time, the future is only its 
semblance. 

" Live in thyself, and seek that which 
perisheth not. Consider the desires of 
our thoughtless passions ; among such 
a throng, is there one which is suffi- 
cient unto man ? Intelligence finds, in 
herself alone, food for her life ; be just 
and strong. No one can know the day 
that is to come ; thou wilt not find 
peace in outward things, seek her in 
thy heart. 

" Strength is the law of nature, and 



loo OBERMANN 

will is power ; intensity in suffering is 
better than apathy in gratification. He 
who obeys and suflFers is often greater 
than he who enjoys or he who com- 
mands. Thy fears are vain, thy desires 
are vain. One thing only is good for 
thee : to be what nature has ordained. 
" Thou art intelligence and matter. 
So also is the world. Harmony trans- 
forms individuals, and the whole fol- 
lows the road to perfection through the 
endless improvement of its different 
parts. This law of the universe is also 
the law of man. 
• •.•••• 

** Console, enlighten, and support 
thy fellows ; thy part has been marked 
out by the place thou dost fill in the 
immensity of living beings. Know and 
obey the laws of man, and thou wilt 
help other men to know and to follow 
them. Consider and show them the 
centre and the end of things ; let them 
see the reason of what surprises them. 



OBERMANN loi 

the instability of what troubles them, 
the nothingness of what sweeps them 
along. 

** Do not isolate thyself from the 
entirety of the world ; keep thine eyes 
ever fixed upon the universe ; and re- 
member justice. Thus thou wilt have 
filled the measure of thy life, and have 
accomplished the work of man." 



Letter XXXIV 

EXTRACTS FROM TWO LETTERS 

PariSy June 2d and /j.thy ^^ year, 

1HAVE seen, within a few days, the 
difficult part of Mahomet played by 
the only three actors who are capable 
of attempting it. . . . 

This tragedy of Mahomet is one of 
the most beautiful plays of Voltaire ; 
but had Voltaire not been a French- 
man he might not have made the con- 



I02 OBERMANN 

quering prophet the lover of Palmyra. 
It is true that the love of Mahomet is 
masculine, imperious, and even some- 
what fierce ; he does not love as Titus 
did, but it might have been better had 
he not loved at all. We know the pas- 
sion of Mahomet for women ; but it is 
likely that after so many years of dis- 
simulation, of retirement, of perils, and 
of triumphs, the passion of this deep 
and ambitious heart did not partake of 
love. 

This love for Palmyra was ill-suited 
to his high destiny and his genius. 
Love is out of place in a stern heart, 
filled with its own projects, grown old 
under the craving for authority, know- 
ing pleasure only through forgetfulness, 
and for which happiness itself is no- 
thing more than a diversion. 

What does he mean by exclaiming^ 
^^L' amour seul me console ''? ^"^ Who 
forced him to seek the throne of the 
East, to leave his wives and his obscure 



OBERMANN 103 

independence, and to lift the censer, the 
sceptre, and the sword ? " L! amour seul 
me console ! *' To rule the destiny of na- 
tions, to change the religion and the 
laws of one portion of the globe, to 
raise up Arabia on the ruins of the 
world, was this so sad a life, so dull a 
lethargy ? It was, doubtless, a difficult 
task, but it was the very occasion not 
to love. These cravings of the heart 
have their spring in the emptiness of 
the soul ; he who has great things to do 
has far less need of love. . . . 

FIRST FRAGMENT 

5/^ year, 
I question whether it is good for man, 
as he is, to be invariably happy, without 
ever having struggled against adverse 
fate. It may be that the happy man 
among us is he who has suffered much, 
not habitually and with that slow at- 
rophy which dulls the faculties, but 
rather with an intensity which excites 



I04 OBERMANN 

the secret energy of the soul and forces 
it, happily, to seek within itself re- 
sources of which it had been before 
unconscious. 

It is a gain for the whole of life to 
have been unhappy at the age when 
head and heart begin to live. It is the 
lesson of fate ; it shapes good men, it 
enlarges the ideas, and it matures the 
heart not yet weakened by old age ; it 
moulds a man early enough in his 
career for him to be a complete man. 
Though unhappiness may take away 
pleasure and delight, it excites the sense 
of order and the desire for domestic 
joys; it gives the greatest satisfaction 
for which we may look, that of ex- 
pecting nothing more than a calm and 
useful existence. We are far less un- 
happy when we desire merely to live ; 
we are nearer to usefulness when, in the 
full strength of life, we seek nothing 
more for ourselves. Misfortune alone, 
I believe, has the power, before the 



OBERMANN 105 

coming of old age, to thus develop the 
ordinary man. 

True goodness exacts wide concep- 
tions, a great soul, and restrained pas- 
sions. If goodness is the highest merit 
of man, if moral perfections are essen- 
tial to happiness, it is among those who 
have greatly suffered during the early 
years of the heart's life that we shall 
find the men who are most fitly framed 
for their own good and for the good of 
all — men who are the most just, the 
most rational, the nearest to happiness, 
and the most steadfastly virtuous. . . . 

The upright man is steadfast ; he has 
not the passions of any faction, nor has 
he the habits of any profession ; he is 
not the tool of any man ; he can have 
neither animosity, nor ostentation, nor 
folly ; he is not surprised at goodness, 
because it exists within him, or at evil, 
because it exists in nature ; he is indig- 
nant against crime, but does not hate 
the guilty; he despises meanness of 



io6 O B E R M A N N 

soul, but is not angered at the worm 
because the unfortunate creature has no 
wings. . . . 

He is virtuous, not because he is a 
fanatic, but because he is in quest of 
order ; he does good so as to lessen the 
uselessness of his life ; he prefers the 
happiness of others to his own, because 
others can enjoy, and he cannot ; he 
desires merely to reserve for himself 
the means of doing some good, and of 
living in peace ; calm is the necessary 
portion of those who do not look for 
joy. . . . He is not satisfied with what 
he does, because he feels that he might 
do far better. . . . Thus he will pass 
his days, while drawing ever onward to- 
ward the highest good ; at times with 
an energetic but hampered step ; oftener 
with uncertainty, with some weakness, 
with the smile of discouragement. 

» ^ ^ 



OBERMANN 107 

It is a small thing not to be like the 
common type of men ; but it is a step 
towards wisdom not to be like the com- 
mon type of sages. 



Letter XXXVI 

Lyons y April ythy 6th year. 

SUPERB mountains, falling of the 
avalanches, solitary peace of the 
forest glen, yellow leaves floating on 
the silent stream ! What would you 
be to man, if you spoke not of other 
men ? Nature would be mute, did man 
no longer live. Were I alone upon the 
earth, what would I care for the sounds 
of the relentless night, the solemn si- 
lence of the great valleys, the light of 
the sunset in a sky filled with melan- 
choly, above the calm waters ? Nature 
is felt only in human relationships, 
and the eloquence of things is nothing 
more than the eloquence of man. The 



io8 OBERMANN 

fruitful earth, the broad skies, the mov- 
ing waters, are but an expression of the 
relationship that our hearts create and 
hold. . . . 

But the relationships of human life 
have multiplied ; the friendship of the 
ancients is far from our hearts, or from 
our destiny. 

« « « 

Man grows old, and his slighted 
heart grows old before him. If all 
that he can love is in man, all that he 
must shun is there also. Where there 
are many social conventionalities, there, 
too, of stubborn necessity, are many 
discords. And thus the man whose 
fears are greater than his hopes lives 
apart from his fellows. Things inani- 
mate have less power, but they belong 
to us more fully; they are what we 
make them. They hold less of what 
we seek, but we are surer of finding 
the things that they contain. They 



OBERMANN 109 

are the joys of mediocrity, limited but 
certain. Passion goes in quest of man, 
but reason is sometimes obliged to for- 
sake him for things that are less good 
and less fatal. Thus has been forged a 
powerful link between man and this 
friend of man. . . . 



NOTES 



T 



Note i, Page vii 

HE following is a list of Senancour*s 
works : — 



Reveries sur la Nature primitive de t Homme* 

Ohermann. 

De r Amour. 

Libre s Meditations. 

Traditions morales et religieuses. 

La Chine, 

Republique romaine. 

Empire romain. 

De Napoleon. 

Valombre., comedie, 

Labelle a Clemence. 

Observations sur le Genie du Christianisme, 

Vocabulaire de simple v'erite. 

France litteraire, 

De Patheisme impute a Voltaire. 

VAmitie. 

Senancour wrote, in addition, a number of politi- 
cal pamphlets, letters, and articles ; and in the last 
years of his life he began a work, De la Religion 



112 NOTES 

eternelle^ the manuscript of which was lost. He 
also planned, it would seem, to write a second 
part to Ohermann, 

Note 2, Page 3 

The method of dating the letters that was 
used in the last French edition, and that was 
presumably the original system followed by Senan- 
cour, has been strictly adhered to. Although 
Ohermann was written during three years, from 
1 80 1 to 1803, the letters were made to cover 
apparently a period of nine years. 

Note 3, Page 3 

This and the following pages refer to the 
time when, in 1789, Senancour fled from Paris 
and took refuge in Switzerland in order to avoid 
entering the priesthood, to which his father had 
destined him, and for which he felt an uncon- 
querable aversion. It is probable that, after this, 
Senancour saw his mother only at rare and un- 
certain intervals; for she died in 1796, and the 
French Revolution, which broke out almost imme- 
diately after Senancour's flight, kept him an exile 
in Switzerland for many years. When we read 
his tender and beautiful words about his mother, 
in the chapter on irreparable faults in the Medita- 
tions^ we feel that in later years Senancour deeply 
repented his hasty act. 



NOTES 113 

Note 4, Page 13 

Cully is a small village on the margin of lake 
Leman, between Vevey and Lausanne. Above 
it rise the vine-covered slopes of La Vaux. 

Note 5, Page 15 

The Vies des Peres du desert was probably the 
French translation made in the early part of the 
seventeenth century by Rene Gautier from the 
original Latin work. Vita Patrum^ sive Historia 
Eremetica^ libri X. This j^cta Sanctorum^ which 
was published at Antwerp in 1628, by P. Herbert 
Rosweyde, Jesuit, contained in ten books all the 
biographies and authentic notices of the fathers of 
the desert which Rosweyde was able to collect. 
The Bollandists afterwards carried out more fully 
the original design of the Jesuit father. Among 
the contents of the Vita Patrum are the lives of 
the chief patriarchs of the Thebaid, written by St. 
Jerome, St. Athanasius, St. Ephrem, and others ; 
lives of holy women ; biographical notices by 
Ruffinus ; maxims and examples from the lives 
of the fathers ; the Historia Lausiaca^ written by 
Palladius, afterwards Bishop of Helenopolis, who 
visited Egypt in about 390, and who gives a nar- 
rative of the three years he spent among the her- 
mits ; and accounts of the holy hermits of Asia. 
Montalembert, in his Monks of the West^ speaks of 
this collection as " one of the noblest of existing 
books." 



114 NOTES 

Note 6, Page 17 
This lake must be that of Neuchatel. 

Note 7, Page 17 

The river Thiele, or Zihl, connects lake Neu- 
chatel with the lake of Bienne. 

Note 8, Page 22 

Compare Matthew Arnold in Tristram and 
Iseult : — 

** Dear saints, it is not sorrow, as I hear. 
Not suffering, which shuts up eye and ear 
To all that has delighted them before. 
And lets us be what we were once no more. 
No, we may suffer deeply, yet retain 
Power to be moved and soothed, for all our pain. 
By what of old pleased us, and will again.*' 

Note 9, Page 25 

Compare this and several other passages of 
the same character, in which Senancour empha- 
sizes the importance of living according to the 
dictates of one's own nature, with the following 
sentences from the Meditations of Marcus Aure- 
lius : — 

" No man can prevent you from living accord- 
ing to the principle of your nature. . . . 

*'*' Each one should act in accordance with his 
natural constitution. . • . 



NOTES 115 

" Think nothing of importance except to act 
as your nature dictates, and to bear whatever uni- 
versal nature brings." 

Compare also these lines from Emerson's essay 
on Self- Reliance : — 

" No law can be sacred to me but that of my 
nature. . . . The only right is what is after my 
constitution, the only wrong what is against it." 

Note 10, Page 28 

We can follow Senancour's trip of two months, 
from the 8th of July to the 3d of September, 
through the cantons of Vaud, Neuchatel, Berne, 
and Fribourg, to the Valais. His first letter was 
written at Geneva. From that point his itinerary 
lay along the northern shore of lake Leman 
through Nyon to Lausanne, which covers the 
slopes of Mont Jorat. Crossing northward, he 
went to Yverdun by way of Moudon, then to 
Neuchatel, and after a trip through the Val de 
Travers, to Saint-Blaise, on the northeastern point 
of lake Neuchatel, and to Bienne. He stopped for 
several days at Thiel, on the frontier of Neuchatel 
and Berne, and, passing by lake Morat, went south- 
ward to Vevey, through Payerne. Skirting the 
eastern end of lake Leman, he visited Clarens and 
Chillon, and then journeyed on to Saint-Maurice, 
where he decided to make his home. 

I have not followed Senancour's spelling of 
Swiss names, as it is frequently incorrect. 



ii6 NOTES 

Note ii, Page 28 

Villeneuve is a small, ancient town on the 
eastern point of lake Leman, where the road 
leaves the borders of the lake and enters the 
valley of the Rhone. 

Note 12, Page 29 

This narrow gorge is described by Rogers in 
Saint Maurice : — 

** 'T was dusk; and journeying upward by the Rhone, 
That there came down a torrent from the Alps, 
I entered where a key unlocks a kingdom; 
The road and river, as they wind along^ 
Filling the mountain-pass.** 

Note 13, Page 29 

The bridge of Saint-Maurice unites the can- 
tons of Vaud and of Valais. With its one arch^ 
seventy feet wide, it spans the river, which is here 
a rapid torrent, and rests on one side upon the 
Dent de Morcles and on the other side upon the 
Dent du Midi, 

Note 14, Page 29 

The town to which Senancour here alludes is 
that of Saint-Maurice. 

Note 15, Page 43. 
Compare the Confessions of St. Augustine, in 



NOTES 117 

the eleventh book, xi, on time and eternity (ed- 
ited by William G. T. Shedd): — 

" Who shall hold their heart, and fix it, that it 
be settled awhile, and awhile catch the glory of 
that ever-fixed Eternity, and compare it with the 
times which are never fixed, and see that it cannot 
be compared; and that a longtime cannot become 
long but out of many motions passing by . . . 
but that in the Eternal, nothing passeth, but the 
whole is present ? . . . Who shall hold the heart 
of man, that it may stand still, and see how eter- 
nity, ever still-standing, neither past nor to come, 
uttereth the times past and to come ? " 

Note 16, Page 56 

The masses of bare sandstone rock, well known 
as the gres de Fontainebleau^ give to the forest 
much of its picturesqueness. Deep valleys and 
gorges separate the long ridges of sandstone, and 
in their hollows lie piles of rocks heaped up in 
rugged masses. 

Note 17, Page 62 

This adventure, which happened to Senancour 
when he was about fifteen or sixteen years of age, 
seems to have left a deep impression on his mind, 
for he recurs to it again in the Meditations, In 
his preface to that book, he declares, in order to 
cover his own identity, that he discovered the man- 
uscript of the Meditations in the rock-cave of 



ii8 NOTES 

the forest of Fontainebleau, and he calls himself 
merely the editor of a moral treatise which, he 
suggests, may have been written by some recluse- 
philosopher who had lived in the former dwelling 
of Lallemant, the poor quarryman. 

Note i8. Page 83 

Avon is the only village within the precincts 
of the forest of Fontainebleau. 

Note 19, Page 83 

Valvin, Samoreau, and Samois are all border 
forest-villages situated on the banks of the Seine. 

Note 20, Page 84 

Thomery, which lies at the west of the forest, 
by the banks of the Seine, is a village of gardens. 
It is surrounded on almost every side by vine- 
yards, which yield the famous Chasselas grapes, 
and by orchards and gardens ; its streets are filled 
with trees, vines, and flowers, hedges of roses, and 
orchards of plum-trees. 

Note 21, Page 84 

According to an old legend, the Grand Veneur^ 
the terrible spectre huntsman, haunted the forest, 
and with torch and hounds followed through the 
night a spectre stag which, like an ignis fatuus^twti 
allured him and ever eluded him. To this nightly 
ride he had been condemned as a punishment for 



NOTES 119 

an offense against St. Hubert. It was this phan- 
tom Chasseur Noir who is said to have appeared 
to Henry IV a short time before his assassina- 
tion, and to have uttered the words, "Amendez 
vous !" 

Note 22, Page 85 

The gorges and valley of Apremont which lie 
on the northwest of the forest, not far from the 
now famous artist village of Barbizon, contain 
some of the wildest and most picturesque scenery 
in the Fontainebleau district. 

Note 23, Page 85 

Beyond Apremont to the south is the Hermi- 
tage of Franchard, now solitary and abandoned, 
buried in rocks and sand, and lying in ruins among 
the hills. The monastery was founded in 1197, 
by monks from Orleans, under Philippe Auguste. 
During the wars of the fourteenth century it was 
partially destroyed, and was afterwards used as a 
stronghold by bands of brigands, who so terrorized 
the neighborhood that Louis XIV ordered the 
ruins to be razed to the ground. 

Note 24, Page 86 
Recloses, la Vignette, and Bourron are border 
forest-villages on the south. 

Note 25, Page 96 
There is every reason to believe that this story 



I20 NOTES 

about the discovery of the Manual of Pseusophanes 
is fictitious and invented by Senancour,who doubt- 
less was himself the author of the Manual. 

I have to acknowledge with sincere thanks the 
courtesy of M. Barringer, of the Bibliotheque Na- 
tionals at Paris, who, in response to an inquiry as 
to whether there exists, in that library, either the 
defective copy of Plutarch or the fragment of 
Aristippus, referred to by Senancour, writes : — 

" In spite of my most minute investigations in 
the Department of Printed Books, I have been 
unable to discover the slightest trace of the defec- 
tive copy of Plutarch mentioned by Senancour. 
In the Department of Manuscripts, M. Omont 
went through, with me, all the inventories and 
catalogues, in none of which was found the name 
of Aristippus. Under such circumstances, I think 
you are right in supposing the Manual an offspring 
of Senancour's fertile imagination. . . . Yours 
very truly, S. S. Barringer, Biblioth'ecaire** 

Note 26, Page 99 

Compare the Confessions of St. Augustine, elev- 
enth book, xvii, xviii, and xx, on the idea of time 
(edited by William G. T. Shedd). 

" Who will tell me that there are not three 
times, past, present, and future, but only one, the 
present, because those two are not ? . . . For if 
times past and to come be, I would know where 
they be. Which yet if I cannot, yet I know 



NOTES 121 

wherever they be, they are not there as future, or 
past, but present. For if there also they be future, 
they are not yet there ; if there also they be past, 
they are no longer there. . . . What now is clear 
and plain is, that neither things to come, nor past, 
are. Nor is it properly said, ' There be three 
times, past, present, and to come : ' yet perchance 
it might be properly said, ' There be three times ; 
a present of things past, a present of things pre- 
sent, and a present of things future.' " 

Compare also the following from the Medita- 
tions of Marcus Aurelius : — 

" The present is the same for all, and what is 
lost also is the same ; for what escapes us is only 
the passing moment. Death cannot rob us of 
either past or future ; for how can one take from 
a man what he has not ? . . . The one who lives 
longest and the one who dies soonest suffer an 
equal loss. The present moment is all that either 
is deprived of, since that is all he has. A man 
cannot part with what he does not possess." 

Note 27, Page 102 

Le Fanatisme^ ou Mahomet le Prophete^ by Vol- 
taire, second act, fourth scene. Mahomet speak- 
ing to his lieutenant, Omar : — 

** Tu sais assez quel sentiment vamqueur 
Parmi mes passions regne au fond de mon cceur. 
Charge da soin du monde, environne d'alarmes. 






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